(Revamping the blog. Please excuse the odd headings. Working on it!)

Writing History & Mysteries

When I'm not delving into historical research, I'm planning a character's demise.

2013 A to Z Mystery Recap

Welcome! I’m doing both the Blogging from A-Z Challenge in combo with Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve kind of grown attached to my characters in the Milk Carton Murders, so why create new ones? So this murder mystery will be from before Dave Robertson (my MC from my MCM story) moves back to the rural town of Lamont to live with his widowed dad. To do it any other way would spoil the Milk Carton Murders.(Eight sentence snippets for The Milk Carton Murders are here as part of  Weekend Writing Warriors/Snippet Sunday)

As any writer knows, a lot of edits and revisions are done to a first draft before it is ready for publication. Since I am doing this by the-seat-of-my-pants you are seeing a first draft in progress complete with plot holes. I will try my best to make it work.
***

A is for Adze

She had been a beautiful woman in life. If it wasn’t for the polka dot scarf around her neck it would be obvious her head was no longer attached to her body.  An adze lay only a few feet away embedded in a partially hewn log. Sheriff Clayton Nazzaro walked over to the hedgerow where the coroner, Herbert Wilde, was crouched down near the body.

“So, the murder weapon you think, Herb?” asked Clayton, with a tilt of his head towards the log.

“I’m not guessing on that one until I get her back to the morgue,” said Herb, “and not until your forensic guys have that adze removed. No mistaking who she is though.”

“Nope. Jack Webster’s daughter,” said Clayton. “Worked up at McCormick’s boat rental last I heard. Quiet girl. What do make of the clothes?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve ever seen her dress this flashy. Skirt seems a might short for her, and the blouse a bit too revealing.”

Clayton thought Herb was right about that. This wasn’t Margie’s style. And he couldn’t ever remember her wearing a scarf around her neck, let alone polka dots. 


B is for Beheaded

Twenty-five-year-old Margie Webster’s body was found along a hedgerow between two farm fields—a place where she would have no reason to be. The forensics crew has collected only a small amount of evidence from the scene.

Margie’s body was taken back to the morgue. Sheriff Clayton Nazzaro finished the difficult part of having her parents identify her body. The sheet was only lowered just below her chin so her neck wound would not be visible to her parents. The next scene takes place in the sheriff’s office with Margie’s parents, Jack and Alice Webster.
***
Sure, he had to notify parents before, but not like this. There was no easy way to tell them their daughter had been beheaded—so he didn’t. He told himself the reason was that he didn’t want that piece of information to end up in the Lamont Weekly Times.

Alice’s hands wrung the sides of her dress into a tight ball. She didn’t look up. Her husband had his arm around her shoulder holding her close but Clayton doubted she was cognizant of it. He would have to handle this next part as delicate as possible. How to start?

“Jack,” Clayton began, still unsure what to say next, “I’m going to have to ask you some questions, and I’m sorry about that, but you understand we have to try and figure out what happened, right?”

“Yes. Yes, I understand,” Jack said. He looked at his wife, frozen in her own thoughts.

“Alright then. So was Margie still working up at McCormick’s Boat Rental?”

“Yes, just the weekends this time of year, until tourist season starts beginning of May.” Jack faced Alice as he answered. “Isn’t that right honey?” His wife gave no indication that she heard the question.

“So she worked yesterday then, I take it, on Friday?”

“I believe she did. Every Friday til 4 o’clock,” Jack said.

“So after she got out of …”

“No, she didn’t,” Alice said, her voice barely audible.

Clayton was relieved there was a reaction from Alice. “She didn’t what Mrs. Webster?”

“She didn’t go to work Friday,” Alice said. She took a deep breath, her voice now clear. “She was supposed to. Normally did. But not last Friday.”

Jack’s face expressed his confusion. He released his hold on his wife as if she did something wrong, withheld a secret of dire importance from him. “She didn’t go in? I thought she had, she wasn’t home. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“She took the day off. Some event or day trip with that book club.” Alice was on the edge of collapse. “That stupid club of hers. You know the one, Jack. You forbade her to go.”

“So you didn’t tell me? Christ Alice!”

That was the final act. Alice broke down into a mass of tears.

Now Clayton was the one who was confused. What could possibly be wrong with a book club?

C is for Cathecting

The problem with murder when it comes to parents, is to get them past their misplaced guilt. Clayton ran into it on other cases too, not just murder. Even after Clayton reassured them there was nothing they could have done; that Margie, like most twenty-five-year-old women, had a mind of her own, but it didn't help ease their pain. They felt responsible in some way.

The guilt they placed on each other made it all the more difficult for the Websters to stick to the questions. Why hadn't Alice told Jack that Margie went off to the book club? If Jack hadn't stifled their daughter so she would have been more open with them--and on and on. It took Clayton an hour to get any honest answers from either of them and that was only after he called in his investigator, Pepper Black.

Pepper closed the door to interrogation room number two where she left Alice Webster with a box of tissues and a female guard. Clayton could see through the glass that Alice would need another box very soon.

"Get anything useful?" asked Clayton.

Pepper sat on the edge of Clayton's desk where he was waiting. She slid her pad across to him. "She didn't approve of Margie going to the book club either. Not so much the club as the guy running it, Malcolm Sinclair."

"Same here. Jack thought the guy was filling her head with crazy ideas. He didn't say exactly what though."

"Alice said she only saw Malcolm once," said Pepper. "Jack didn't know about it--still doesn't. She met them for lunch. Says Margie desperately wanted Alice to like him. It was some special occasion for them that Alice didn't understand. Malcolm ceremoniously gave Margie some flowers, but said the guy showed no affection to Margie whatsoever--didn't even smile."

"Sounds a bit odd. So what's your take on Margie and this guy?"

"It sounds like a cathectic relationship."

"Come again?"

"No doubt the guy has some sort of attachment to her but it's not love." said Pepper. "Margie took it as such, wished it to be so. But Malcolm's feelings for her seem cathecting not loving. We mix the two. You say you love your car, but can you? Of course not. It's inanimate."

"So this guy Malcolm, he found her important for the purpose she served, to him anyway."

"That's how I see it."

"That's something like what her parents implied when I first got them in here. Said his attention towards their daughter wasn't on the up and up so Jack insisted she drop the book club."

"Obviously she didn't take her dad's advice."

"Suppose we better have a talk with Mr. Sinclair to see what he was up to last weekend," said Clayton.

Pepper had a cat that ate the mouse look on her face. "Better yet, I haven't read a good book in a while. Know of a club around here I can join?"

D is for Diluted

Pepper had four hours to decide what to wear to the book club and the persona she wanted to adopt. Should she go for the hot erotica book reader type or maybe the quiet librarian look? Sheriff Nazarro wasn’t much help. Although he knew Margie Webster it was just to say hello or small talk when he had seen her out and about with her parents. Clayton had known Jack and Alice Webster for years through different town organizations, but not the daughter. The sheriff was single with no kids so he never crossed Margie’s path socially and the parents didn’t seem to know the real Margie. Maybe a trip to McCormick’s Boat rental would help.

    Pepper grabbed her badge and clipped it to her belt, along with the usual department accessories—notepad, police radio, and of course her Glock. Her day old coffee sat thick in the pot. No time now to brew a fresh one and she didn’t feel like stopping at the Stop-n-Shop to grab their version of coffee. She poured the sludge in her mug, diluted it with a bit of tap water and put it in the microwave. Nothing a good dose of sugar wouldn’t cure.

    Pepper donned a light jacket, snapped the lid on her mug, and reached for her keys. Spring had finally cracked through the wall of winter’s chill. She opened her windows to air out her garage apartment above Lamont Bicycle Shop before she locked the door behind her. The temperature had climbed close enough to take the top off her jeep but she resisted the urge. It would be cooler down by the lake where sporadic sheets of thin ice still dotted the water’s surface. Besides it wouldn’t be worth the effort for the five minutes it would take for her to get there.

     People were out and about in the village as she drove through town. Most of the shops were sprucing up by washing the salty film of winter off the store front windows. Even a few tourists were out antiquing. She didn’t wave to anyone as she passed. Pepper was new to the area. Good thing, or Sheriff Nazzaro would never had allowed her to infiltrate the book club even if it was held in the next town on the other side of the lake. As she pulled into McCorrmick’s Pepper noticed that the location where the book club meetings were held was only a dozen houses away from the boat docks. Maybe Mr. McCorrmick would have more to say than she realized. 

E is for Ernest Hemingway

The bell tingled above Pepper Black’s head as she opened the door of McCormick’s Boat Rentals. A man sat behind the counter sorting through a carton of Rapala fishing lures.

“Excuse me,” said Pepper. “Are you Steve McCormick?”

“That would be me. What can I do ya for?”

Pepper unclipped her badge from her belt and opened it for Steve to see. “I’m Investigator Black from the county sheriff’s office. I’d like to ask you a few questions about Margie Webster.”

Steve dropped the lures back in the box and sat down on the stool behind the register. “Damn bad business that. Margie was a nice gal. Quiet, except when it came to fishing or anything about this lake here. She knew her stuff. Customers liked her.”

Pepper took out her pen and note pad and flipped to a clean page. “So I hear she took the day off on Friday. Did she do that often?”

“Oh no, no. Margie was always here when she was scheduled to work, always on time. Asked for the day off when she came in on Thursday.”

“Did she say what her plans were for that Friday?”

“Some trip with her book club,” Steve said. “I can't recall off the top of my head where.”

“I take it Thursday was the last time you saw her then?”

“No, as a matter of fact she came in Friday morning. Rushed in looking for a book under the counter here. Couldn’t find it at the time though. Seemed quite upset about it too.” Steve reached under and pulled out a worn paperback. “Found it a while after, she left in the break room.”

Steve extended the book to Pepper. Complete Poems, Ernest Hemingway. She opened the ragged cover and turned to the copyright page. The 1983 date justified the wear. She riffled the pages with her thumb until she arrived at a page with the corner turned over. There were markings in the margins. She read to herself the short verse called, Chapter Heading.

  For we have thought the longer thoughts
    And gone the shorter way.
And we have danced to devils’ tunes,
    Shivering home to pray;
To serve one master in the night,
    Another in the day.


Oh Margie, why didn’t you talk to someone? Whatever had been going on in her life she must have begun to realize she wasn’t herself—it was just a little too late.


F is for Foible

Between the time Investigator Pepper Black went to McCormick’s Boat Rental, and got back to the station, Sheriff Clayton Nazzaro had been to some of the shops around the lake. He wanted to see if anyone had seen Margie Webster at the docks after 9:00 AM on Friday when she stopped at her job to look for her Hemingway book of poetry. He didn’t have much luck. He also, in a roundabout way, questioned people in regards to the book club held at Malcolm Sinclair’s estate.
***
“I’m not liking this Idea, Pepper,” said Sheriff Nazzaro. “What if someone recognizes you?”

Pepper adjusted the wire under her blouse and put on her suede blazer. She decided to dress casual in her best jeans, one of the few pairs she owned with no holes or stains. Crime scenes tend to give one’s wardrobe a workout. Her auburn hair was pulled back in a French braid. A pair of flats, a silver bracelet and simple earrings, and very light on the makeup completed her average girl look. She pulled up her pant leg and slid her Sig Sauer 380 into its hidden holster.

“No one saw me at McCormick’s if that’s what you’re worried about. I was in and out,” Pepper said, as she stood up and smoothed out her jacket sleeves. “Mine was the only vehicle in the lot.”

Clayton rose from his desk chair to pace back and forth by the windows. “What about someone in town who goes to the book club?”

Pepper stepped in front of the sheriff’s path. “Clayton, I’m too new around here. This is the first case I’ve worked the scene. Everyone in the department has the heads up, so quit worrying. You’re making me nervous and that’s not the image I want to present when I get there.”

“Fine. It’s just we’ve never had a reason to play spy, probably don’t need to now even, but I have to admit, learning about this guy today, it might be the best way to get a bead on him.”

Pepper didn’t like to see the sheriff worry like this. Where she came from going undercover was common. She had to remember, for a small rural town, a decapitated body was probably the weirdest murder case they’d ever encountered. She'd better shift the focus away from her and back onto the case itself. Pepper sat down on her usual spot on the edge of the sheriff's desk.

“Anything else you learned today I should know before I head out to see Sinclair and the other bookies?” She got a smile out of him with that and he sat back down in his chair.

“The guy is a bit peculiar from what I was told, and I’m not talking about a minor foible or two,” said Clayton. “Mostly keeps to himself except the book club and who knows how he gets a hold of the bookies, as you call them.”

“The problem is how much of what you heard is true and how much is small town busybody gossip?” Pepper picked up a book of Hemingway’s poems similar to Margie’s.

“Got it at a bookstore a couple counties over—in case you’re wondering,” said Pepper. “It’s not exactly the same, but it’ll work.”

Clayton stood up to walk Pepper out. “Got one of the department’s unmarked vehicles for you to use. Still wouldn’t park near the house though, go a ways down the road. Any ideas how you’re going to justify being there seeing as no one knows how to get into the group?”

“Sure,” she said, taking the keys. “I’ll say Margie invited me and told me to meet her there. It’s not like Malcolm can ask her, right?”

 G is for Groggy

Pepper pulled her jeep into the roundabout and parked along the circle. Malcolm Sinclair's estate was one of the few large homes on Spirit Lake. As she walked towards the entrance she could tell by her steps and the view that the property was wider than it was deep—common for land along the water’s edge. Pepper was told by the town assessor that one of the town's early businessmen had bought up several smaller parcels during prohibition to build it. The combination of several merged lots gave what locals would consider a mansion, plenty of frontage to support a boat launch as well as a strip of beach area.

The house itself looked imported from the south--the same as the original owner's wife. There were more porches than Pepper could count on one hand without walking around the entire building. In contrast, Malcolm's outside seating was northern New York Adirondack style chairs and rockers. Benches of the same style were placed throughout the gardens which spread outward from the main entrance of the house. Other guests, who arrived earlier than her, sat scattered amongst the floral and decorative landscape.

Sure seemed a lot of people for just a book club, and smack in the middle of it all was Malcolm Sinclair.  Wearing white cotton, zoot-suitish pants, he looked as if he walked off a 1940s dressing room movie set. He stood at the center of four cackling women and held a glass of what Pepper guessed was bourbon on the rocks to complete the image.  The only thing Malcolm was missing was the white ascot. She had better take care of their introductions now. No sense wasting her time if he doesn't buy her fake persona. She walked over to the group as timid looking as she could stand to portray.

"Excuse me," Pepper said, "would you be Malcolm Sinclair?"

"Yes," he answered, in a slur. "And you might be?

Malcolm seemed a bit groggy for only 6:00 PM. It was more like too much cocktail hour rather than not enough sleep—and damn him for reminding her she hadn’t thought of a name yet. Crap. She wished she had stopped for a brain jolt of hazelnut espresso at the café before she showed up.

“I'm Hazel brew … Brewster,” Pepper said. “Hazel Brewster. Hi. Sorry, I'm a bit nervous. Margie Webster told me to meet her here but I don't see her yet."

"Well, Hazel, is it?" Malcolm said, as he sipped his drink in one hand and slid his other hand in the pocket of his silk, amoeba print dinner jacket in stereotypical fashion, "that would be a neat trick wouldn't it--considering she's dead."


H is for Halibut

Sheriff Clayton Nazzaro did not feel comfortable with his newest investigator’s decision to go infiltrate Malcolm Sinclair’s book club. In the end he had to agree with Inv. Pepper Black. it was the best way to find out if Malcolm knew anything about Margie Webster’s murder. Clayton was to meet Pepper back at the station a half an hour after the book club ended. If she wasn’t back by 9:30 PM, he would go look for her. In the mean time, he would go over to the Lamont Café and see if they still had fish left from the night before.

The café was in its usual state of buzz on a Saturday night. He went over and sat on a round swivel stool at the counter. No need for a menu. He knew everything they sold by heart. It only threw him when they changed the price. Clayton was a victim of single guy syndrome.

Beth walked over and set a cup of black coffee down in front of him. “Didn’t sell as many fish fries as normal last night with some of the regulars out of town. Do you want the rundown of what we have?”

“You read my mind, as usual, Beth,” Clayton said. What do you have?”

Beth looked up as if reading inside her brain. “Shrimp in a basket, but that’s a standard; perch, northern pike, and halibut. All served of course with your choice of two sides, salad, mashed potatoes, macaroni salad, French fr …”

“I know the sides, Beth,” Clayton said with a smile. He knew, that she knew, that he knew them all. “Fries and mac salad will be fine. And I’ll take the halibut.”

Beth took her order to the cook and came back with a fresh pot of coffee to top off his cup.

Clayton took a sip from his mug. “So where was everyone last night? You said a bunch of folks were out of town.”

“Oh those book club people went off on some field trip. They all stopped here for coffee and such before they headed out.” Beth set extra creamer pods on the table.

“Did you happen to see Margie Webster in the group?”

“Oh yeah, poor Margie, huh? Of course you would be working on that. Yes, she was with them,” Beth said. She set the pot on the table. “She looked rather jumpy. I remember because I didn’t think she needed any more coffee, you know?”

“Was she talking with anyone in particular in the group?”

“She was standing with that new guy, Malcolm, from up at the lake. Creepy that one is.” The bell over the Lamont Café jingled. She grabbed the pot. “Got to go, customer. The quicker I am the bigger the tip.”

He needed to catch Beth at a slow time to talk with her again. Clayton poured a fresh creamer into his cup and mindlessly stirred it. Note to self—whenever there’s a murder, stop at the café. The waitress knows all.

I is for Infallible

Dinner hour was too busy for Clayton to pick Beth’s brain on what else she may know about Malcolm Sinclair and the day before when Margie Webster came into the Lamont Café with him. It was twelve hours since Margie’s body was found and already the waitress had heard about the girl’s death. If Clayton found out any of his deputies were blabbing in the diner about Margie’s head not being attached to her body, he’d have their asses and their badges.

Clayton sat in his patrol car on idle trying to decide what to do. He still had an hour to kill before it was time to meet Pepper back at the station to find out what she learned at the book club—if she was allowed to stay. It might be too soon to stop at coroner Wilde’s office for a report or too late for Herbert Wilde to still be there. It was a tossup.  He went back through the scribbles in his notepad.

The last time anyone saw Margie alive now appeared to be Beth at the diner. Margie had stopped at McCormick’s Boat Rental at 8:30 AM on Friday morning looking for her Ernest Hemingway book of poems that she couldn’t find. Around 9:00 AM she was seen by Beth, the waitress at the Lamont Café, when the book club came in for coffee to go before their field trip. Both her boss, Steve McCormick; and Beth, the waitress, indicated Margie seemed agitated. Although a few of the locals were a part of the book club run by Malcolm Sinclair, no one seemed to know how to become part of it or where the club was headed for their field trip on Friday. Her parents were clueless about what their daughter was up to other than they had forbid the twenty-five year old Margie to associate with Malcolm Sinclair and his bookies, as Pepper called them. Margie Webster is next seen when she is found dead in a field along a hedgerow the next morning at 7:00 AM when Joe Burnhart was spreading manure on his field. Her head, severed from her body, held in place by a polka dot scarf, and dressed in clothes not like her to wear. In other words, Clayton had a whole lot of nada to go on.

The sheriff’s decision was made. He turned off his patrol car. The diner closed soon and his best source of clues at the moment would be Beth. She knew her customers, knew what they wanted on any given day without asking, just by their mood. Beth was the best waitress Clayton had ever come across, her memory was infallible. What Clayton hoped to find out from Beth is what Margie was wearing Friday morning when she came in and what the local gossip was about Malcolm Sinclair. He had to do something constructive while he worried and waited for Pepper to return from Malcolm's--hopefully still in one piece.

J is for Jealous

While Sheriff Clayton Nazzaro waits for Inv. Pepper Black to return from Malcolm Sinclair's book club, he waits for Beth, the waitress at the Lamont Café, to finish her shift. He wants to continue their conversation on the local hubbub about Malcolm and his group. Beth is also one of the last people to see Margie Webster alive. The sheriff wants to know if Beth remembers what Margie was wearing the morning she came in for coffee before the book club’s trip, as the clothes she was found in did not match the Margie everyone knew.

Meanwhile, Pepper has infiltrated said book club under a false persona of Hazel Brewster, an acquaintance of Margie. I’m going to include the last few sentences of where we left off with Pepper (G is for groggy) when she arrived at Malcolm’s so it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the scene. Pepper starts us out.

***

Malcolm seemed a bit groggy for only 6:00 PM. It was more like too much cocktail hour rather than not enough sleep—and damn him for reminding her she hadn’t thought of a name yet. Crap. She wished she had stopped for a brain jolt of hazelnut espresso at the café before she showed up.

“I'm Hazel brew … Brewster,” Pepper said. “Hazel Brewster. Hi. Sorry, I'm a bit nervous. Margie Webster told me to meet her here but I don't see her yet."

"Well, Hazel, is it?" Malcolm said, as he sipped his drink in one hand and slid his other hand in the pocket of his silk, amoeba print dinner jacket in stereotypical fashion, "that would be a neat trick wouldn't it--considering she's dead."

“Dead?” No doubt her reaction was believable as Pepper didn’t see how Malcolm could have known that yet.

“Oh yes, quite dead,” said a woman in khaki slacks with a cocktail in her hand, “You haven’t heard?”

Should she fake tears? Nah, that would be overkill. “No, I hadn’t heard. I just saw Margie last week.” Which wasn’t a lie, Pepper had seen her—she just wasn't alive at the time.

“Yes about that,” Malcolm said. He handed off his empty glass to a waiter as he passed with a tray then sat down at a patio table made of drift wood. He indicated for Pepper to take a seat. Two other women automatically did the same. “How is it that Margie said she would meet you here tonight?”

Pepper had to watch her step. The least amount of details the better. “I saw her at McCormick’s, you know the boat rental place. She was reading Hemingway. We discussed a couple authors. Margie said I should come to the book club next time you met.” Was that ambiguous enough, she wondered?

“And how do you know we were meeting tonight?” asked Malcolm. He leaned over, his chin on his hands, resting his elbows on the table. “Hum?”

Think quick Pepper and don’t blow it. Wait. She had it. “Beth at the diner heard. She told me, so here I am.”

Malcolm leaned back in his chair and lit a cigarette. He inhaled deep, held it, and let it out toward Khaki pants’ face. “So, you didn’t call her tonight to see if she was coming before you drove here?”

The two women giggled. Giggled—for pity sake—time to take the offensive. “Well had I known she was dead, I wouldn’t have bothered. It’s not like we were the best of friends. I just knew from going into McCormick’s.”

“Oh do you sail, Hazel?” said the other woman not in Khakis. “I do so love to sail.”

“Sail? Me? No, I don’t,” said Pepper. Not too smart. She’d been in farm country too long already. She lost her undercover edge. What a stupid slip up. Think Pepper, think. “Fishing. I love fishing. Relaxing you know? I get my gear there.”

“Well, Miss Brewster, you and I will have to go together sometime,” Malcolm said. He grinned and butt his cigarette out in the ashtray.

“Love to,” Pepper said. By the jealous look on Khaki and non-Khaki’s faces, the two women did not care for her consent to Malcolm’s offer. Now all Pepper had to do was get the sheriff to give her a crash course on how to fish.

K is for Kerfuffle

There was no doubt that Malcolm Sinclair was a narcissist, but was he a killer? And if he did kill Margie Webster--why? Pepper Black's infiltration into the book club as Hazel Brewster hadn't gleaned much useful information so far--and they weren't reading Hemingway. Why then was Margie in such a panic to have here book of Hemingway poems with her before she went on the book club's field trip? As soon as the reading out loud by Malcolm of some Nietzsche crap was done she would try to buddy up to Malcolm's puppy dog girls---at least to get their names. Sheriff Nazzaro wouldn't appreciate it if she called the two women khaki-pants and non-khaki-pants in her report.

Pepper's chin slid off her palm as she nodded off.



"Are we boring you Miss Brewster?" said a voice.

Through her blurry eyes she looked up. Malcolm stood in front of her with two glasses in his hand. When did he finish reading? Malcolm extended one to Pepper. The honest approach here might be in her favor to find out what she wanted to know. "No offense, but yes you were. I'm not much of a Nietzsche fan. Hemingway is more my speed. In fact that is what I thought you all we reading." She took the glass from Malcolm, but dare she drink it?

"Hemingway?" asked Malcolm. He lit a cigarette, sucked his lungs in as he inhaled then blew the smoke out the side of his mouth. "What would make you think that?"

"Margie made me think that actually," Pepper said. "We'll not in so many words. I just assumed since she had it with her all the time and suggested I read it that ..."

"We'll no, you would be wrong," said Malcolm, he took another drag of his smoke. "He's not the type of writer I would normally pick for my group."

"And why is that?"

"A trifle too flowery. My group is here to expand their minds. I think it would cause quite a kerfuffle with the ladies."

Pepper doubted khaki-pants had any hope of expanding her mind. She stood up from the Adirondack chair. She had dozed off the wrong way and now she had a stiff neck. Damn things needed some cushions. She put some space between her and Malcolm as she rose. "Now that you mention it, I see very few men here."

He shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "Ms. Brewster, you haven't touched your wine."


L is for Lagniappe

“I’ll pass on the wine,” Pepper said. “I have to drive home yet.”

“Not necessarily, Ms. Brewster, or can I call you Hazel? I have plenty of spare rooms,” Malcolm said, as he turned to face the two women who approached from behind him. “Ah, ladies, do join us won’t you?”

Malcolm was a walking, talking cliché. She checked her watch. Only 8:30 PM.  Fifteen more minutes of Mr. Malcolm Sinclair was all she felt she could stomach. It was the same two women as before—khaki-pants and non-khaki-pants. She really needed to get their names. Their timing was perfect though, she could avoid Malcolm’s comment. She had to wonder, did he offer the same to Margie on the night of her death after the book clubs outing? Maybe she could get it out of the two women if she could get them to focus on something other than Malcolm.

“Well there you two are,” said khaki pants, “we were wondering where you two had gotten off to.” The woman placed her hand on Malcolm’s arm and directed him to sit on one of the rustic chairs by the patio table.

Pepper had no choice but to sit back down on the seat made of sticks. Adirondack furniture was fitting for the look Malcolm wanted to present with his landscaped gardens but they were damn uncomfortable in her opinion.

Chain-smoker Malcolm lit another cigarette. “I was just telling Hazel to try some of her wine. I have plenty of rooms if she felt she couldn’t drive home.”

Pepper needed to steer the conversation in a different direction, and the two women were focused with intent on her after Malcolm’s last remark. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your names before.”

“How rude of me,” said Malcolm, with a gesture towards the woman in the white Capris,  “This is Mrs. Sophia Lyons."

“And I’m Jessie Belmont,” the other woman said, extending her hand to Pepper in front of Sophia.

Finally--a name for the woman in tan. “Pleased to meet you both,” said Pepper. “Did either of you know Margie well? I was so shocked tonight to hear of her death.”

The two women gave each other a secret-girl’s-club look. Malcolm sat in stoic silence, minus the sound of his repetitive smoke inhalation.

“Such a nice girl,” said Jessie. She smiled at Malcolm. “She always had some lagniappe or other when I went into McCormick’s for boating supplies. I got the cutest little flashlight key chain the last time. See?”

Sophia rolled her eyes at Jessie’s show and tell. “Annoying is what I’d say. Don’t you think, Malcolm?”

That got a rise out of him. Malcolm fidgeted in his chair, stubbed out his cigarette and stood. “She was a pleasant enough girl. I don’t think she quite fit into our group though. Now if you’ll excuse me Ms. Black I must attend to my other guests.” He walked away without a glance at any of them.

Jessie gave Pepper a confused look, then turned to Sophia for conformation. “Oh I see. You’re divorced!” said Sophia, placing her hand on Pepper’s. “Poor thing, fairly recent I take it? It is so hard to get a accustomed to one’s maiden name again. Not to worry, you’ll get used to it.”

Pepper was glad she couldn’t see what her own face revealed. So much for the whole undercover thing--she was just outed by her prime suspect.

(Letter M post was not a part of the story. It was in memory of those at the Boston Marathon.) 

N is for Notorious

It was 8:50 PM. Beth should be getting ready to lock down; the cook had already come out the back door of the Lamont Café. The sheriff got out of his car, walked up to the glass door, and tapped on the glass. He could see Beth in there as she untied her apron, but she didn’t see him. He rapped louder.

Beth gave Clayton a “what now” signal with her arms in the air as she walked towards the door. The locked clicked as it spun open. “What, you forget your gun on the counter or something? It’s almost nine, Clayton.”

“I know, I know. I just have a couple quick questions. Honest. It’ll just take five minutes.”

Beth looked at her watch. “You have three. It’s been a tiring day and I just want to go home and soak in the tub with a good book.” She opened the door wider and let him in.

“Don’t tell me you’re in the book club too?” said Clayton. He sat at a booth close to the door. He really had no choice. Beth blocked him from coming in any further. Smart girl.

Beth put on her jacket and sat across from him. “What? Malcolm’s?”

“That’s the one.”

“Oh, hell no,” Beth said. “I’m not a rich, bored housewife, for one.”

“And for two?” asked Clayton, although he figured the list was longer.

“I’m not single and insecure,” said Beth. She reached in her jacket pocket and pulled out her car keys. “Malcolm Sinclair is a notorious womanizer. He’s in here with a different lady from that club all the time. Anything else?”

“Yes, just a couple. Do you remember what she was wearing yesterday morning when they all came in before their field trip, as every one calls it?”

“Actually, I do. She wasn’t dressed like herself, now that you ask,” said Beth. She checked her watch again. “She had on a pretty short skirt for her. Trying to get Malcolm's attention I guess.”

“What about jewelry around her neck, a scarf?”

“No, nothing like that that I noticed.” Beth moved over by Clayton and with a wave of her hand, ushered him to the door. “Times up.”

“One last thing,” said Clayton. He gave his best plead for patience look. “Did any of them happen to mention where this field trip was?”

“Oh sure, Malcolm’s other property.” Beth unlocked the door and nudged Clayton’s shoulder.

Clayton didn’t think to ask the county clerk about other property when he checked to see when Malcolm bought the lake parcel. “He has another property?”

“The old Olmstead place. You know, the local writer from the 30s? Jeez, Clayton don’t you know anything about where you live?”

Apparently not, Clayton thought. “Where’s that?”

Beth pushed Clayton out the door. “It’s the big brick one on Hempstead Road. Man for the sheriff, you don’t know much.”

Clayton had to agree. The house wasn’t even a quarter of a mile down the road from where Margie’s body was found. He was right about one thing. The waitress did know all.

O is for Obsessed

Clayton arrived back at the station at 9:05 PM. Ten minutes before Pepper was due back. He went up to the tech department where they were monitoring Pepper’s transmissions. Just one tech on duty after nine and he didn’t give the impression that anything imperative was going on.

“What’s the word?” asked Clayton. He spun a chair around and sat.

“Not a whole lot till right towards the end. Her cover is blown,” said the tech.

“What? And you didn’t call me?”

“It just happened, sheriff. There was a lot of nothing going on until Malcolm called her Ms. Black at 8:45.”

“That was twenty minutes ago!” Clayton stood and grabbed the spare headset and put it on. “Can you hear me Pepper? What the hell is going on? Are you okay?”

Static.

“Pepper?” No answer. This was not good. This was one time Clayton didn’t want to be right, she shouldn’t have gone to the book club until they had more time to check out Malcolm Sinclair.

“Give her a minute, sheriff,” said the tech. “We get a few dead zones in that area. I heard her talking to the two ladies sitting with her after Malcolm left. She was fine.”

“Fine my ass,” said Clayton.

More static came over the line—then her voice. “I can hear you, you know. I’m headed back----my car now.”

Clayton flopped back down in his chair. “Jesus, don’t do that to me.” He put her on speaker and relived his ears of the headset.

More static came through. “So you -----to know what I-------out?”

Her voice was choppy, but Clayton assumed what she meant. “What did you find out?”

“The guy is obsessed with the lonely hearts, he’s arrogant and the women follow him like puppy dogs.”

“I got pretty much the same observation from Beth at the diner,” said Clayton. “How did he figure out who you were?”

“I------a clue”

“You’re breaking up,” said Clayton. “We’ll talk when you get here. Let me know when you get to your car.”

“Will do.”

“You want me to turn it off?” asked the tech.

“Not yet,” said Clayton. He heard the distinctive beep, beep of Pepper turning off her car alarm. “Wait until she’s in the vehicle and gives us the okay.”

“Getting in now, sheriff. What the hell …” Sounds of scuffle came over the speaker. The car door slammed—then nothing.

“Pepper?” called Clayton. “Pepper!”

(Letter P was on Publishing and not part of the story.)

 Q is for Quell

 Pepper was inside something being rolled along uneven ground. It was dark and damp and she wouldn’t be able to see a damn thing even if there was a light on—her eyes were covered. She needed to spit. She couldn’t do that either with something tied tight around her mouth soaked in drool. Her tongue got in the way when she tried to yell. The sudden touch of cold metal pressed against her check convinced her not to try again.

She remembered standing by the car as she talked to Clayton over the wire she was wearing. Did she still have it on? Pepper moved her restrained arms so she could feel the edge of her carrier with her shoulder. The odd angle of the side led her to believe she was in a wheel barrel. Her movement to shift her wrists so she wasn’t sitting on them earned her a smack in the head. It didn’t matter. She felt her bra press the wire against her chest. The sheriff must be able to hear what was going on.

Her captor stopped. She didn’t know who, the person did not speak. Pepper felt the tip too late. With no time to prepare, she hit the ground hard, her cheek bone bounced off the rough edge of a stone wall with a crack. She had to quell her fear and think straight. Where the hell was she?

R is for Russian Literature

The sheriff puts out the “officer down” call. Police cars are at the scene by Pepper’s jeep, parked down the road from Malcolm Sinclair’s estate on Spirit Lake where the book club was held.
***
“Her purse was found on the ground outside of her jeep,” said the deputy, “and this book of Hemingway poems. Door was open.”

Clayton would have to fight his urge to throttle Malcolm Sinclair. He headed back to his patrol car. “I’ll be up having a few words with the Grand Poobah. Tape everything off all the way down the road and up that idiot’s driveway—nobody else in or out.” He didn’t wait for the deputy’s response.

Thirty minutes had passed since the last sound from Pepper through the wire she was wearing. The tech had heard Malcolm call her Ms. Black before he got up from where he was sitting with Pepper and two other women. Would thirty minutes be enough time for Malcolm to take her?

There were still a few people meandering around the grounds as the other officers approached to prevent them from leaving. Malcolm was sitting on an Adirondack rocker on the porch, book in one hand, drink in the other.

“Ah sheriff, a bit of commotion tonight I see,” said Malcolm. He set the drink down, took a cigarette out of his pack and lit it.

“You don’t seem too upset one of your guests has gone missing,” said Clayton.

“So I hear, Ms. Brewster. Hazel wasn’t it?” He took a drag and blew the smoke in Clayton’s direction. “Unfortunate. She didn’t care much for our topic tonight. Nietzsche wasn’t to her liking. I was going to ask her if she liked Russian literature any better.” He tossed the book on the table.

Clayton could feel his blood pressure rise. He couldn’t let on that his tech told him that Malcolm knew Hazel was Pepper. “Is it normal for you to do away with your club members when they don’t like your choice in books—Margie Webster and now Hazel?”

“Yes, I heard about Margie. Very sad business. But I assure you, sheriff, I haven’t left this spot,” said Malcolm, with a wave of his arm in front of him. “Ask any of the people still here.”

That was the plan, Clayton thought. But would they tell the truth?

(S is on a different subject.)

T is for Tumultuous  

Pepper didn't know if it was blood that trickled down her fingers or sweat.  She still couldn't see, but she could feel the synthetic zip strips tighten around her wrists as they swelled. She believed she was underground by the dampness of the floor and the uneven stone feel of the walls. Now Pepper understood why the wire she wore no longer worked. Even if she could speak, the tech at the police station wouldn't pick it up, or any sound for that matter. Sheriff Nazzaro would have no idea how to find her.

She needed to get what was over her eyes off, but with her arms secured behind her back and her ankles bound together it was difficult to maneuver. She twisted sideways. Using her shoulder against the wall as leverage she managed to get herself up into a sitting position. She scooted her butt backwards until she felt the wall behind her.

Without any food or drink for who knows how long, it took a few moments to catch her breath. She closed her eyes even though it made no difference. It wasn't like she hadn't been in this kind of situation before. When she worked undercover in Chicago it happened twice. The last time almost cost her her life. After that she did her best to disappear into small town life where nobody knew her. Her move to the little rural town of Lamont had been self-preservation.  Funny how the mind wandered in these situations, she thought.

Pepper turned her head to the side---right into the point of a jagged rock. She cussed but it wasn't intelligible. The pain brought some sense back to her brain. The band around her eyes was tight but she was able to hook an edge of it on the pointed stone. It didn't catch. She dug in again. She repeated the process until she felt a slight slip. This time she knew the trickle of moisture wasn't sweat. With a rake of her face against the stone she pushed in until the rock stripped away both skin and cloth. Her eyes were free.

She pulled her legs to her chest and rubbed her eyes and bloodied face against her knees. It took a few minutes for her to focus in the dark.  When she did, there was no mistake what had blocked her vision--a red polka dot scarf. Pepper let out a tumultuous yell. 

U is for Undercover

Questioning Malcolm Sinclair had gotten the sheriff nothing but smug remarks. Should he come right out and say he heard Malcolm call the woman posing as Hazel Brewster, Ms. Black over the wire she was wearing? The last thing he wanted was to put Pepper in more danger, but letting Malcolm wonder how he found out might make Mr. Sinclair slip up.  Clayton heard footsteps come up from behind. He took a few steps back away from the porch and Malcolm’s ears.

“Sheriff,” said the deputy, “we questioned everyone still here. No one saw Hazel, I mean Investigator Black, leave. At least that’s what they’re saying.”

“What about the two women she was sitting with at the table with Malcolm?” asked Clayton.

The deputy flipped open his pad, “Left already. Sophia Lyons, married, not happily from what they say here, and the other one Jessie Belmont—lives alone. We sent officers to their houses.”

 “See if you can track down any other guests who might have left already,” said Clayton, “and send these other people home.”

“Already on it, sheriff.”

“Good. Good work.” The deputy walked back down the path into the gardens—now to approach Malcolm about the ladies. Clayton returned to where Malcolm was chain smoking, standing on the top step.

“Making any headway, sheriff?” Malcolm asked.

Clayton figured he would try the direct approach to gauge Malcolm’s reaction. “Where is Sophia Lyons and Jessie Belmont, Mr. Sinclair? The women you and Ms. Black were sitting with.”

Malcolm choked on the smoke he had just inhaled. “Finally getting around to that, I see. As to the women, I didn’t see any of them leave, including your detective.”

“And how did you know who Investigator Black was?”

Malcolm paused a moment. “I had my bicycle in for repairs. She lives in the garage apartment above the Lamont Bicycle Shop.” He gave a smart ass grin. “Rather silly sending an officer undercover to a book club, don’t you think?”

At this point Clayton didn’t know what to think of Malcolm Sinclair.

V is for Voluntold

The gossip of a small town was faster than twitter, not that Clayton did that, but he knew enough people who did. The locals debated and argued about the death of Margie Webster, and whether Malcolm Sinclair had anything to do with it. In less than two days the town was either for or against the man. When Pepper went missing from right down the road after Malcolm’s book club let out, it was fodder for the internet. Yet what exactly had Malcolm done other than to act like a narcissistic asshole? It was all just hunches and guesses and nothing that got Clayton any closer to solving Margie’s murder, or more critically, finding Pepper.

The guests at Malcolm Sinclair’s house had been sent home—except none of them went home. Most had stopped in at the other restaurants in Lamont, ones that stayed open later than the diner, just to see who could tell the story faster about the commotion at Malcolm’s estate. Then there was the bowling alley where people drank beer, discussed the business of others, and once in a while threw a ball down the alley. When Jessie Belmont wasn’t found at home to be questioned about what happened at the book club, Sheriff Clayton Nazzaro’s deputy figured this was where she would be—single, lonely, sitting at the bar of Pin Drop Alley. The deputy was right.

Clayton had stopped at the station first to hear the tape of the recorded conversation from the wire Pepper wore. His tech forwarded it to the part where Pepper, posing as Hazel Brewster, was sitting at the table with Jessie Belmont, Mrs. Sophia Lyons, and Malcolm Sinclair. What would Jessie say about it was the question.

Clayton weaved his way through the bowlers who meandered back and forth to the bar where Jessie sat on a stool drinking something with an umbrella in it. Shouts from jubilant or pissed off bowlers as the pins slammed against each other could make a man deaf.  Jessie sipped her drink unaware.

Clayton walked up beside her. “Evening Ms. Belmont.”

Jessie flinched. “Jeez sheriff, you just about scared the crap out of me.”

“Sorry,” said Clayton. He sat down on a stool next to her. “Didn’t mean to sneak up but it’s not hard to with the noise. If you got a minute I’d like to talk to you about tonight at Malcolm Sinclair’s place.”

Clayton ordered a Coke and went over the book club meeting with Jessie. What she said matched the conversation that the sheriff’s department tech had recorded—sailing, fishing, and Margie Webster being found murdered.

“At first I thought Hazel was recently divorced and that’s why Malcolm called her Ms. Black,” said Jessie, “but the gossip now she’s one of your detectives. And kidnapped of all things. I hate when I leave before the excitement happens.”

“What time did you leave?” asked Clayton. “Was Investigator Black with you?”

“No, I left alone shortly before nine,” said Jessie. She motioned to the bartender and slid her empty glass his way. “Malcolm had walked away and Sophia was complaining about her husband. I didn’t feel like listening to it anymore, so I left.”

 Jessie Belmont’s glass was full again. As long as she was still sitting and drinking he’d keep asking questions. “How well did you know Margie Webster?”

“Not very. She was quiet most of the time. I think she had a crush on Malcolm at first. He wasn’t interested though. Too average for his taste.”

“At first?” Clayton asked. “What happened?”

Jessie sipped her screwdriver. “Don’t know. I overheard her and Malcolm talking. She didn’t want to go on the field trip, the one to Malcolm’s other house, where that famous writer lived. But he insisted he needed her.”

If Margie had trusted her gut instinct, she’d still be alive. “Did she say no when he asked for her help?”

“Ask?” Jessie laughed. “Asking wasn’t his style. Voluntold is more like it. Too bad too, huh? She wouldn’t be dead now with her head lopped off.”

Clayton was stunned; someone in his department would lose their head too over this. “Where’d you hear that?”

“It’s bowling league night sheriff, Joe Burnhart was in.” She switched her leg one over the other, and leaned into Clayton. “He told me about finding her dead body in his field, told me about the scarf too.”

Clayton could feel his blood pressure rise. They made very clear to Joe not to say anything about the details of how he found her.

“You know,” said Jessie, she paused to sip her drink, “Sophia had a polka dot scarf on that day.”

W is for Willow

Pepper’s eyes grew accustomed to the dim light cast from random bulbs strung along wires that hung from the ceiling. She wiped the blood from the side of her face with her shoulder. By the racks of bottles she was obviously in a wine cellar. She could see a tunnel leading out of the room in two different directions. If she was under Malcolm’s prohibition built house on Spirit Lake this was probably how the smugglers got the liquor out unseen. If this was true, then one way led to the outside and to the lake.

The room was obviously used but who came down here? Malcolm? A servant? Did Malcolm take her because he figured out she was a cop who was on to him for Margie Webster’s murder and not Hazel Brewster, book lover? How long had she been here? She stopped wearing a watch when she got her cell phone and she could feel that was no longer in her pocket. And what about her gun? She could no longer feel her Sig Sauer 380 in her leg holster. Although her kidnapper thought to take those, they didn’t check to see if she was wired. Not that it mattered. There was no way any sound would get picked up through all this rock.

Tossing all this in an endless loop in her mind made it seem like hours had passed—more likely she misjudged the time. Pepper scanned the room for anything that could be used to get her restraints off and get the hell out.

A small willow wood table and chair was the only furniture in the underground room made of rock. On top of the table was an empty glass and pitcher of water. She so needed to make her way over to it to quench her thirst, if she could only stand up. Her wrists were zip tied behind her back but it looked as though another scarf was all that held her ankles together. She could make good use of a wine bottle if she could maneuver herself over to one of the racks.

Pepper rolled on the uneven stone floor until she was close enough to grab a bottle from behind and slid it out of the shelf. Making sure she had a good hold of it, she swung as hard as she could. She missed. She swung again and this time hit the wooden shelf. The glass shattered onto the floor. Now if she could just get her ankles near the jagged bottle neck.

X is for Xizang

While Pepper is frantically trying to undo her leg restraint to escape captivity, Sheriff Clayton Nazzaro is at Sophia Lyon’s house. Sophia and Jessie Belmont had followed Malcolm Sinclair over to sit with Pepper during the book club shortly before Pepper was kidnapped. The sheriff went over to Sophia’s right after talking to Jessie who revealed Sophia was wearing a polka dot scarf the day of the book club outing, most likely the same scarf found on murdered Margie Webster.
***
Sophia lay stretched out on a lounge chair on her patio that overlooked the lake. The police presence there didn’t seem to have any effect on her composure.

“Have a seat, sheriff,” said Sophia. She gestured to the other lawn furniture with cushions that matched her lounger.

If he sat, his physical body might give in to exhaustion. “I’ll stand, thanks,” said Clayton. “You’ve been home long? We looked for you at Malcolm Sinclair’s place. You attended the book club tonight, right?”

“Yes, sheriff, I was there. I left around nine. Everyone else was filtering out so I figured it was time to go.”

“Did you happen to leave before or after Hazel Brewster?”

“Before. We started to leave together but she stopped to talk to Malcolm,” said Sophia, a touch of annoyance in her voice. “I couldn’t bear to watch him try to suck another one in. The man acts like he walked out of the pages of a 10¢ romance novel. I had to suppress my laughter when he went on about staying with the monks in Xizang.”

Clayton was confused by her remarks about Malcolm. Sophia’s attitude didn’t jive with the impression Jessie gave of her either. “I was under the assumption you liked Malcolm Sinclair.”

“Like? Oh, I see. You’ve heard all the stories about me haven’t you? Poor Sophia—the rich and bored, dejected housewife—she needs a boy toy.” Sophia swung her legs off of the lounger and sat up. “I may complain now and then. What wife doesn’t? The bored part is true. I just go to Malcolm’s gatherings for something to do and the free booze. Plus I’m nosy.”

“Nosy about what? Malcolm?” Clayton found that other people’s boredom often lead to the best observations.

“What he’s doing over there.” Sophia pointed in a diagonal direction across the lake. “He comes and goes at odd hours of the night from the underground passage that leads from his place to the lake. It’s a prohibition house you know.”

Although Malcolm had no qualms about the deputies going through his house without a warrant to look for Pepper, on the pretext she might have gone back inside without his knowledge, the man had said nothing about a cellar.  Clayton’s phone emitted a version of Hawaii Five-O.  It was Herbert Wilde, the coroner. "Yeah, Herb?"

"I figured you'd want to know my preliminary findings."

"I do, but make it quick." Not that Clayton didn't want to know the results of Margie Webster's autopsy, he did, but she was already dead. He was more concerned about how to keep Pepper from ending up the same way. Clayton took a deep breath and released it.  "Sorry Herb, go ahead."

"There was a blow to the back of her head we didn’t see initially at the scene because she was on her back. Didn't kill her, but it sure would have knocked her out cold. The adze was the murder weapon. It's extremely sharp. It wouldn't have taken much to cut clean through. One good swing would have done it."

"Any way to know what knocked her out?"

"By the wound I’d say it was a golf club," said Herb. "We haven't quite pinpointed what type or the manufacturer yet."

"Thanks Herb." Clayton hung up the phone. Just about everyone on Spirit Lake golfed on the country club’s course there. If they had to track down golf clubs they would, but to find the right one would be like trying to pick the only four inch piece of hay from a round bale.

Clayton called his deputy. "I need you back over to Malcolm’s place ASAP. See if he’ll agree to looking underneath his house, cellar, whatever it is. Give him the ‘we can come back with a warrant’ line if he balks, and the putting an officer in danger part if you can’t look now—whatever it takes. Just get back in that house.” The sheriff hung up.

“Your officers didn't tell me much. What's really going on over there?” asked Sophia. The look on her face was clueless.

Clayton cursed himself. He should have stepped further out of ear shot of Sophia. “Hazel Brewster is one of my detectives, Pepper Black. She went missing right after the book club. She was there investigating Margie Brewster’s murder.”

“The hell you say,” Sophia fell back into the lounger. “You don’t suspect Malcolm of anything, do you? He seemed to genuinely like Hazel—I mean Ms. Black—oh, yes. That does explain why Malcolm called her that. He must have known, we thought maybe she was recently divorced. And Margie? He would not have hurt Margie. I’m positive.”

“What makes you so sure? You don’t seem to trust him.”

“Malcolm was quite upset by Margie’s death,” said Sophia. She got up from her lounge to look across the still water of the lake. “I think he was falling for her. Said she was a nice girl, level-headed and maybe that’s what he needed to turn his life around.”

“Did anyone else hear him say that?”

“Jessie, did.”

“When?”

“The morning of the field trip to his other house. Why?”

“Do you remember if Margie Webster was wearing a polka dot scarf the morning of the field trip?”

“Oh my no,” said Sophia, she turned to face Clayton. “She had simple taste but even Margie wouldn’t wear dots. That would be Jessie—girl has no sense of style.”


“How about on Friday morning? Was Jessie wearing one then?”

“Yes as a matter of fact, a red one. I took pictures that day. I can grab my digital if you like.”


“Yes please, Mrs. Lyons.” Clayton walked to the other end of the deck to place a call when Sophia entered the house.

“Pin Drop Alley. Can I help you?” answered a voice.

“Yes, this is Sheriff Nazzaro. Don’t hand over the phone if you say yes to this, but is Jessie Belmont still there?”

“Sorry sheriff, she left a few minutes after you did.”

Y is for Yelled

     Pepper has been held captive somewhere since after Malcolm’s book club. If you’ve read posts F and T, you know she’s been in spots like this before when she worked undercover in Chicago. The last time she nearly got killed, hence her recent move to the small town of Lamont where she lives in a garage apartment over the bicycle shop. 
    Sophia showed Clayton pictures she took during the book club’s field trip from the day before Margie Webster turned up dead and beheaded—we now know Margie had Jessie Belmont’s scarf around her neck.
***

Clayton didn’t like to talk on his cell as he drove but he had no choice. The question needled at him; how did Malcolm know Hazel was his detective, Pepper Black? The jeep tilted as he took the curve in the road beyond the speed limit around the lake. He rolled the window down for the cool air to rush over his face. The sheriff needed the owner of the Lamont Bicycle Shop to pick up the damn phone. It was on the tenth ring.

“Who the hell is this, it’s almost midnight,” the man yelled.

“Wilber, that you?” The jeeps tires skimmed the ditch as it sped around the turn in the road. “It’s Clayton. Sorry about the time but it’s important.”

“Good God sheriff, I’m sorry,” Wilber answered, the stress in his voice blared in Clayton’s ear. “Any word on Pepper? My Lord. She hasn’t been here if that’s why you’re calling.”

“No, no that’s not why, but thanks for letting me know. I have a question.” Clayton put his cell on speaker and set it on the seat. “You know who Malcolm Sinclair is?”

“Seen him around town. Introduced myself and told him about the shop, him being new and all. That’s about it.”

“He ever come into the shop to have his bike tuned up, get parts, anything like that?” The phone slid towards the passenger door as the jeep leapt over a bump. Clayton grabbed the cell before it went over the edge. “What’s that now?”

“Nope. He’s never been to my shop. It’s just me, here. Small place and all—I’d remember him.”

Clayton’s gut feeling was right. Malcolm had lied. “When you’ve seen him around town, was it ever on a bike?”

“Oh, he don’t ride,” said Wilbur. “Got a bum knee. Said something about an accident when he lived in Chicago.”

“Thanks Wilbur, you’ve been a big help.” He almost hung up when he heard the man’s voice again.

Find her, sheriff. She’s a good lady.” Wilbur disconnected.

No sooner did Clayton flip his phone closed, it rang. He picked it up and wedged it between his ear and shoulder. “Nazzaro.”

“Sheriff?”

“Yeah, what do ya got?” Clayton turned the wipers on. God, he hated spring. That’s all he needed was a typical Lamont style flood.

“We’re at the house. Servant let us in.”

“I’m almost there,” said Clayton. “Should be pulling up in five—don’t let Malcolm leave.”

“Sinclair’s not here.”

“Damn it!”

“We found the hidden entrance to the cellar. You were right about the exit to the lake," said the deputy, "but you’re not going to believe what’s down here, sheriff.”

Clayton slowed the vehicle. He didn’t want to hear the words he was afraid his deputy would say. “Go ahead.”

“Well other than a lot of fishing gear, the room is full of surveillance equipment.”

Z is for Zig Zag Zydeco


Pepper’s ankles bled from the jagged bottle edge. No telling how long it took her to cut through the scarf that bound them as one but she was finally free of it. The tingle in her legs told her the circulation had returned—and too fast. If she didn’t get something around her deep gashes she could easily bleed out. It should have been a simple task to tie a scarf but the zip ties that held her wrists together behind her limited her movement. She bent her leg backwards to reach. Her swollen fingers fumbled with the fabric in defiance. She bound her left ankle as best she could.

Her legs were still asleep from the calves down.  If she stood she would surly fall over until the feeling came back to them. She had no choice but to crawl to get the other scarf that had been tied around her eyes. Pepper moved herself across the rock surface of the floor by her knees. A trail of red lay behind her, the scarf a few inches in front—she grabbed it. Her fingers were almost beyond the ability to function as she wrapped her other ankle.

Pepper rolled herself to a sitting position and raised her knees to her chest. Despite the pain she stomped on the ground until the tingle in her feet subsided. If just this exhausted her, would she have the energy to escape? She took a few deep breaths. Whatever it took, she had to get out.

She leaned against the wall for support as she stood. Her thirst and need for fluids overwhelmed her. The glass and pitcher of water left on the table to taunt her lay across the room. Had someone intended to come back and couldn’t? Why even kidnap her? Did Malcolm panic? The questions that taxed her mind added to the dizzy swirl inside her head from the effort it took to stand. She hadn’t been in this much trouble since Chicago. Pepper put her back to the wall and waited for her eyes to focus. She looked at the water, then the wine bottles. She took slow steps until she felt balanced and made her way to the wine racks. Back up against the end of the rack, she lifted off a corkscrew that hung off a nail by a string and stuck in her back pocket. Pepper surveyed the wine. A bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild would do well. Granted alcohol may not be the best choice but she had no clue what, if anything was in the water.

The thought of something to drink renewed her spirit. The chair and table didn’t seem so far now. She walked to it with renewed confidence. Her only immediate problem was how to get the bottle open to pour it. After several attempts she relented. There was no way she could configure the movement with her bound hands behind her to undo the cork from the bottle. She returned the corkscrew to her back pocket.

“Sinclair!’ she screamed. “Sinclair, if I get out of this I swear I’ll shoot you on sight!” The echo of her voice off the stone wall was her only answer. She emitted the laugh of one with hysteria. How stupid that was—she had no gun. No one heard her. She didn’t even know if he was the one who put her in here. But it had to be didn’t it? Malcolm knew who she really was. Pepper fell back into the willow wood chair defeated. This was worse than Chicago. The move to a small town where no one knew her was supposed to be safe, a fresh start. But no, she got the undercover itch and had to do it her way to snoop on Malcolm Sinclair. Hadn’t she learned her lesson the last time? To have a stalker obsessed with the role she played undercover was dangerous enough with lewd phone calls from her “darling” as he’d say and photos of her left on her door stoop; then being jumped, tied up, just to be tossed out from a van for dead. This time she was taken as herself. It somehow made her feel more violated. At least she could justify in her mind that the persona she existed as in Chicago wasn’t really her, it was someone else. But this was real, this was her real life and it pissed her off.

Pepper stood and grasped the wide part of the bottle toward the bottom as tight as her fingers could stand. Yes, she had been through hell, but damn if some arrogant SOB like Malcolm Sinclair was going to bring her down. She was already a bloody mess, how much worse could it get? She smacked the neck of the bottle on the edge of the table till it shattered. She poured the wine slow right to the rim of the glass then checked for bottle fragments. Clear. She bent over and sipped. Her taste buds awoke to the sweet taste. The moisture that flooded over her parched mouth invigorated her. She drank a bit more and it hit her hard deprived of a drink for so long. Two tunnels out but which one should she choose? Too much alcohol made people do crazy things, but maybe a little crazy was what she needed.  Without further thought she picked one at random and ran.

***

Sheriff Clayton Nazzaro roared into Malcolm Sinclair's estate and screeched to a stop in front of the house, his cell phone still under his chin. "What do you mean? What kind of surveillance equipment—home security?"

"Well some of it," said the deputy, "but most of it looks like shots of places in the village."

Clayton got out of his vehicle and ran up the walkway to the front porch. His phone now in hand he twisted to get the kink out of his neck. "Any sign of Investigator Black?"

"No. Nothing. Sorry sir."

Clayton couldn't decide if that was a good thing or bad. "We'll don't touch anything. Call in the tech guys to handle it. How do I get down to where you are?"

"The tech team is already ------ sheriff. They're parked around back. Come -----way.  The lake entrance is the quickest ----- here."

"You're breaking up.  Be right there." The signal by the lake was crap. Clayton came down off the porch and made his way around the side of the house. He could see the county van down a steep drive that lead to a dock. He went around it but still saw no one.

The deputy seemed to appear from nowhere. "Here, sheriff. Over this way."

Clayton didn't see the actual entrance until he was right up on it. The rock formation zigzagged out from the side over an opening set further back which gave the cliff side the illusion that it was all one solid piece. No wonder the wealthy bootlegger bought up the surrounding properties and built his house here.  It was a perfect way to smuggle alcohol out via the lake and maybe people too—then and now. Another tunnel, he assumed, was the one that lead up into the house.  The stone room itself was massive. Fishing equipment was lined up to one side. None of it looked like it was recently used. It felt too dry.  Another wall was filled with computer screens; each one flashed a different scene between snowy static of poor reception. Clayton went over to where the techs were at the keyboards.

Hey, sheriff," said the tech, "quite the exciting night for our department, huh?"

Clayton ignored his flippant remark. "Just tell me what all this is."

"Right, well," the tech said, as he pointed to various screens, "each one of these is a different view of the village. Here's our station, the court house, the Lamont Bicycle Shop, the Lamont Cafe, all different places. Then the entrance to here, see? You can see our men in the tunnel."

"The bike shop." Clayton paused. "You mean Pepper's apartment. Everywhere she would go is more like it, but why?"

"Couldn't tell you that, sheriff, but looking at the stack of disks over there I'd say he's been doing it for a while."

Clayton followed the direction of the tech’s hand to a cabinet at the far end of the long desk that held the equipment. He opened it. The dated CDs went back almost a month. Not too long after Pepper had arrived in town, and right around the time Malcolm bought the property. Many were from before the murder of Margie Webster. "I don't get it. He's stalking her?"

"I'd say so, sheriff," said the tech. "This one scene though, I'm not sure where it is. Looks similar to where we are now."

Clayton turned to the screen and scanned his eyes across until he spotted the one the tech meant.  He was right. It looked almost the same except for what appeared to be the edge of a wine rack showing on the edge of a view of a tunnel.

A flicker of an image passed across the screen, then static. Clayton was sure it was a person. "Did you see that? Can you make that replay without interrupting the recording?"

The tech rose and moved to one of the other computer stations and signaled another officer from his department to take his seat. “I can do it from here. Let’s see what we get.” His fingers moved rapidly over the keys. He stopped it, went back again and paused. “I think I got it set in the right spot.”

The tech tapped the keyboard and in slow motion they could see something enter the view. A woman with a braid down her back, and arms behind her back came from out of the wine racks and exited down the tunnel. She didn’t turn to face the camera but Clayton knew.  It was Pepper and she was alive. He had a hunch where she was and he had better be right.

Clayton waved over his other officers. “You all know the old Olmstead place on Hempstead Road?” Some of his men gave him the same confused look that Beth had given him when he told her about it. “The big brick house?” The look of recognition crossed their faces as they nodded.

“That the one that was owned by that writer guy about a hundred years ago?” asked an officer.

“Not quite that long,” said Clayton, “but, yes. Malcolm Sinclair owns it now. I want some of you to go around through the front and see if there’s an entrance to the cellar. Might be hidden. I’ll take the rest to the field down the road where Margie Webster’s body was found. If it’s anything like this place there’s a tunnel that leads between the two. I hope.” Hope and a hunch, that’s all he had—and a prayer he could get a search warrant. Either way, they were going in.

***

Pepper picked wisely. She could see moonlight at the end of the tunnel. Odd that she didn’t smell the water. She slowed for a moment to catch her breath. When she looked up a figure was blocking the light. She stepped back with one foot, then the other. Maybe she hadn’t picked so well after all. The person moved closer. It was too short to be Malcolm.

“Oh, Ms. Black you have become such a nuisance,” a woman said.

It was khaki pants. Flashlight in one hand, Pepper’s Sig Sauer 380 pointed at her in the other. “Jessie. What the…”

“This is the cutest little gun, by the way. I must get one,” Jessie said, as she waved it in her hand. “It would fit so nice in my purse.”

It didn’t appear the Calvary was going to find its way in time to save her. Pepper didn’t think the stall option would work with this one either, too unstable, but what the hell, she had to ask. “Why are you doing this? Why me? And what about Margie? Was that you or Malcolm?”

“Poor Malcolm. He was so upset about Margie’s death,” said Jessie. She moved closer to Pepper. “Silly girl. Margie took the boat one day to make a delivery for her boss and thought Malcolm would be down by the docks so she came up the lake way. She came in a little too far and saw all Malcolm’s cameras. It burst her little bubble about him right there and then.”

“His cameras?”

“Never you mind that,” said Jessie. She shook the gun in Pepper’s face. “That’s not the point. The point is she thought she could come to me for advice. Advice! I was sick to death of Malcolm fawning over her. Margie’s so down to earth. Margie’s so level headed. Margie can help me. He was falling for her! Not me. Her!”

Jessie was going for the deep end quick but she had the gun and Pepper had two useless arms behind her back. “So what did you do Jessie? You killed her for it?”

“Well, I didn’t really mean too. I don’t think. Well, okay. I did. She made me mad.” Jessie was running her fingers along the sides of the gun, caressing it. “I wish I had this. It would have been less messy, but no. I gave her the advice, just not the way she wanted. We were on our little field trip. We went into the den. And there were Malcolm’s clubs for show. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play. And Margie didn’t want to play anything with him after what she saw. I didn’t want to hear it. Not about the cameras or another woman I had to worry about. I just wanted her to shut up.  I grabbed a club and whack. That’s it. She was quiet.”

There is always some truth in deranged rambles but Pepper had no idea what train Jessie’s brain was riding on. “Did Malcolm help you dump her?”

“Oh, heavens no. Malcolm didn’t even know she was dead until everyone else did.” Jessie grinned, and then gave the same giggle as she did the night of the book club. “It was easy to get her out actually. Phillip Olmstead was my great-grandfather. I used to play here. I knew about the tunnel that led from the house to the field. This place was on the Underground Railroad.  I just dragged her down, dumped her in the wheel barrel and took her out. So now we’re done and off you go.”

Now Pepper understood why she didn’t smell the lake. They were at another house of Malcolm Sinclair’s. She heard the distinctive cock of a gun, but it wasn’t the one in Jessie’s hand. Another shadow stood in the moonlight. “What about her head, Jessie?”

“What?”

Jessie was distracted. “Her head,” Pepper said. “Why’d you cut it off?”

“Oh, it sounds so bad when you say it like that,” said Jessie. “The adze was there on the ground and I thought, well so much for having a good head on her shoulders, huh?” Jessie was in a state of uncontrollable laughter and didn’t her the soft steps from behind. “But then it looked in such poor taste to leave her like that, so I tied the scarf around her neck.”

“Put the gun down, Jessie.”

The voice sounded familiar but Pepper couldn’t place it. It sounded like Malcolm, but not.

Jessie turned and looked back. “But I brought you a present Malcolm, isn’t this what…”

Malcolm fired.

Jessie dropped like a marionette whose strings were let go. It was a clean shot through the temple.

Malcolm ran to Pepper’s side. “Are you alright?”

“I suppose.” Pepper was leery. It was something about his voice. She was tired and hurt all over. It had to be her imagination. “You knew I was here, how?”

Malcolm came in closer, a breath away. He rubbed his hands up and down her arms, yet he made no attempt to cut her free. An odd look came across his face. “I’ll always know where you are, darlin’, Chicago or otherwise.”

He called her darling. Now she knew. She smacked her knee in his groin as hard as she had the strength for and got around him. Malcolm reached out and grabbed her ankle as he doubled over in pain, sending Pepper face first into the stone floor. She screamed in agony. She heard the sound of sirens from the outside. Her other foot went back and made contact, she hoped with his skull by the feel of it.

“You bitch!”He let go of her ankle.

Pepper rolled so she could see him and shimmied backwards until she touched the wall and was able to stand. Malcolm was up and headed for her.

“Not this time.” Pepper felt for her back pocket and found the corkscrew.  She held on tight with her bound hands. Malcolm lunged, and as he did Pepper turned and embedded the point in Malcolm’s side. He fell against her as they both toppled to the floor. His weight was excruciating. He still breathed.

Feet pounded up the tunnel. “You all better hurry the hell up. This guy’s still alive,” yelled Pepper.

Clayton was the first face she saw when he kicked Malcolm off of her. She gasped in air that filled her lungs. “You were right,” Pepper said between breaths.

“After all of this, that’s all you have to say?” said Clayton. He knelt down beside her. “Right about what?”

“No more undercover.  Now you mind cutting me loose before my arms fall off?”

Clayton unclipped the knife from his belt and cut her free. It took a few minutes for her to bring her arms around to the front. When she did, she hugged herself. Someone should.





Pepper sat on the edge of the rescue vehicle as Malcolm, or whoever he was, wheeled past her to an awaiting ambulance.  He turned his head to look at her. Childish as it was, she couldn’t resist the urge to stick out her tongue at him. Blame it on the Chateau Lafite.

“You look like you went forty rounds with a grizzly bear,” said Clayton. “You going to be okay?”

“They bandaged me up pretty good, but the higher ups want me checked out over to the hospital,” said Pepper.

“So I take it that dancing to some Zydeco over at the country club is out?”

Poor Clayton, she put him through hell too tonight. “I’ll take a rain check on that one.”

“Alright.”

Clayton seemed at an uncomfortable loss for words. She still had one thing left that bugged her. “Did you ever figure out what Margie meant with all her notes in that Hemingway book? Why it was so important?”

Clayton waited before he spoke. “I realize tonight was the wackiest book club you’ve ever encountered, but you know what?”

“What?”

“Sometimes a book is just a book.”

—The End—
Now the next part for a writer begins. Editing. A few rounds of it in fact. In hindsight, I would have done a few things differently.  I was still quite pleased with it for a panster style first draft. If you read my next post you'll find out what I forgot and how I survived a NaNoWriMo event while blogging every day.

3 comments:

  1. Very cool idea for the A to Z this year :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just finished. I enjoyed the story very much!

    ReplyDelete

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