Read Broken Places Online

Authors: Sandra Parshall

Tags: #UK

Broken Places

BOOK: Broken Places
9.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Broken Places
Rachel Goddard [3]
Sandra Parshall
USA (2010)
Sheriff Tom Bridger and veterinarian Rachel Goddard are caught in a
maelstrom of lies that stretch far into the past and suspicions that
threaten the future.
Cam and Meredith Taylor, who run Mason
County’s failing newspaper, are murdered within hours of one another.
Rachel Goddard is dragged into the case because she heard—­but didn’t
see­—Cam’s murder.
The Taylors arrived in Mason County as volunteers in
the 1960s War on Poverty, and over the years they have made loyal
friends and bitter enemies with their outspoken activism. By rescuing
the small, bankrupt newspaper, they gained the wary respect of the local
establishment. But when it started going under, Cam proved he would go
to any lengths­—including blackmail—­to save it. Did his pressure
tactics backfire and get him and his wife killed?
The victims’
daughter, Lindsay, is Tom’s former girlfriend. Does Lindsay’s return
spell trouble for Tom and Rachel? To make matters worse, the prime
suspect is a newcomer, cartoonist Ben Hern, the son of another 1960s
activist and a childhood friend of Rachel’s. Discovery of a disturbing
secret leaves Rachel wondering what else her old friend Ben is hiding.

Broken Places

Broken Places

Sandra Parshall

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2010 by Sandra Parshall

First Edition 2010

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2009931400

ISBN 13: 978-1-59058-653-2 Hardcover

ISBN 13: 978-1-59058-710-2 Trade Paperback

ISBN 13: 978-1-61595-149-1 Epub

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

Poisoned Pen Press

6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103

Scottsdale, AZ 85251

[email protected]


For Jerry, my partner in crime


The usual suspects deserve a nod for their help during the writing of this book. My husband Jerry served as proofreader and sounding board, and he never stopped believing I could produce another novel, even when I had doubts and loudly expressed them. Carol Baier and Cat Dubie have been loyal friends, critiquers, and cheerleaders. Every day, I receive an endless supply of support and comradeship from members of the Guppies Chapter of Sisters in Crime. I love them and feel blessed to have their priceless friendship.

My editor, Barbara Peters, provided invaluable advice and direction, and I’m grateful for her help in making the book better. As always, I appreciate the dedication of the Poisoned Pen Press staff and everything they do on behalf of the PPP writers. Special thanks go to Geoffrey Boyard for creating a third excellent cover for me.

I received information and advice from many people, such as the gang of regulars on the Crime Scene Writers listserv and Dr. D. P. Lyle Jr., and I thank them all. If any errors remain, they are entirely my own.

Many thanks to the real Angie Hogencamp for letting me borrow her name for one of my characters. Marisa Young made a donation to the Malice Domestic charity auction in exchange for the right to give one of my fictional dogs the name Cricket. Two other dogs in this book, Maggie and Lisa, along with the charming guinea pig Mr. Piggles, were named by Meg Born, who made a generous donation to the Bouchercon 2008 charity auction to win the naming rights. The big fluffy cat who belongs to my fictional cartoonist Ben Hern bears the name of Hamilton, who labored long and hard as the store mascot at Creatures ’n’ Crooks in Richmond, VA. This wonderful store is closed now, like so many other independents, and Hamilton is living a life of ease in retirement.

Finally, I am grateful to every reader who has taken the time to e-mail me or tell me in person that you have enjoyed my first two books and want to see more. In the end, that is what keeps a writer going: the hope that someone out there will sit down with her book, open it with anticipation, and read it with pleasure.


The world breaks everyone and afterward

many are strong at the broken places. But

those that will not break it kills.

—Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms

Chapter One

When Rachel Goddard turned onto Ben Hern’s property, she couldn’t see the other car barreling toward hers down the long, curving driveway. All she saw up ahead were the massive rhododendrons and trees in summer leaf that formed a screen on both sides. Even Ben’s house was invisible from this angle.

Rachel was good-naturedly teasing Holly Turner, her young veterinary assistant. “I’ve never seen anybody so excited about meeting a dog and a cat. Don’t you see enough pets at the clinic every day?”

“I know it’s silly.” Holly flashed her megawatt smile. “But his cat and dog are like celebrities, bein’ in a comic strip and on TV.” She paused for a fraction of a second before adding, “It’s so excitin’ to have somebody famous like Mr. Hern comin’ to live right here in Mason County. And to think you grew up with him!”

Rachel glanced at Holly, watched her tuck her black hair behind her ears, change her mind and let it drop against her cheeks again. Acting as if she were on her way to a date and nervous about how she looked. Maybe bringing her along on this house call hadn’t been a good idea. “You know, Ben is—”

Holly screamed.

Rachel swung her gaze back to the road, saw the blue car flying around the curve toward them. She wrenched the steering wheel hard to the right. Tires screeching, her SUV bumped off the driveway and crashed into a wall of greenery. Branches cracked, leaves slapped the windshield, Rachel and Holly bounced in their seats.

Rachel floored the brake. When the vehicle stopped, they seemed to be inside a shrub. Big rubbery leaves pressed against the windshield and windows.

“Oh, my god,” Rachel gasped. Her heart banged against her ribs, the beat echoing in her temples. She saw everything through a screen of her own auburn hair, fallen forward over her eyes. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah—” Holly paused to gulp. “I’m okay.”

Rachel slumped forward against the steering wheel and blew out a long breath. “Was that Cam Taylor?”

“I think so. He went by so fast.”

Rachel’s mind had snapped a picture as the other car raced past and now produced it in surprising detail—the battered Ford with one front fender a different shade of blue than the rest of the car, the driver’s hands clenched around the steering wheel, his hair whipped into a fright wig by the blowback through open windows. “Has he lost his mind? For god’s sake, he could have killed us.”

With trembling fingers, Rachel pushed her hair out of her eyes. She looked around and tried to orient herself. All she saw was vegetation. She shifted the vehicle into reverse and began backing out slowly.

“Why do you suppose he was here?” Holly asked. “What business would he have with Mr. Hern?”

“Probably the same business he had with you and me. Begging for money. I guess he didn’t get it from Ben either.” The tires bumped over roots and rocks.

Rachel gave the vehicle more gas. Abruptly it popped free of its leafy trap and lurched back onto the driveway, throwing both of them forward against their seat belts. Holly yelped. Rachel struggled with the steering wheel, couldn’t straighten the tires fast enough, and slammed on the brakes just in time to stop the SUV from sailing off the driveway on the other side.

She sat still for a moment, clutching the wheel and willing her heart to slow down. Her mouth was so dry her lips stuck to her teeth.

“Oh, my goodness,” Holly said, assessing the mangled rhododendrons from which they’d emerged. “I hope Mr. Hern’s not real picky about how his yard looks.”

Rachel gave a shaky laugh and shifted into drive. They rounded the broad curve that led to the parking circle outside Ben’s Georgian brick house. Rachel pulled in behind Ben’s black Jaguar and the little green Volkswagen beetle that belonged to his assistant, Angie Hogencamp.

Rachel couldn’t shake the dizzy, helpless sensation of losing control. Her hands were still trembling, her heart still racing when she retrieved her medical bag and acupuncture case from the back seat.

Examining the outside of the vehicle, Holly exclaimed, “Look at your poor car. It’s all scratched up.”

The hybrid SUV was only a month old, but after the run-in with the rhododendrons its silver paint looked as if a gang of vandals had worked it over with sharp objects. Rachel was too relieved to be safe, though, to care about the car. “It’s nothing compared to what could have happened to you and me.”

She handed Holly the acupuncture case.
Calm down,
she told herself. She was here to treat an animal in pain, and she didn’t have time to indulge a reaction to the near-collision.

She and Holly were mounting the front steps when Ben opened the door and greeted them with a smile. “Hi, Rach—” He broke off, his smile fading, as he glanced from Rachel to Holly and back. “Is something wrong?”

Rachel took a good look at Holly’s disheveled hair and dazed expression for the first time and realized she probably appeared equally shaken up. Combing her hair back from her face with her fingers, she told Ben, “Cam Taylor ran us off the driveway. We’re both okay, but it would have been nice if he’d stopped to make sure he hadn’t killed us.”

“Aw, for Christ’s sake.” Ben inclined his head toward Holly, who stood a foot shorter. “Are you sure you’re not hurt?”

Holly bobbed her head. Clutching the acupuncture case to her chest with both arms, she suddenly seemed oblivious to everything but the handsome dark-haired man who stood so close. Holly had met him a couple of times before, when he visited Rachel at the cottage she and Holly shared, but it might take a lot more exposure before his exotic aura wore thin. Females tended to react this way to Benicio Hernandez, the Cuban-American artist who lurked behind the Anglicized tag of Ben Hern, cartoonist. His brooding eyes and sensitive features, combined with well-defined muscles under a black tee shirt, made him look like a model for the cover of a romance novel. Good thing, Rachel thought, that Holly’s boyfriend wasn’t around to see the rapt expression on the girl’s face.

“What on earth did you do to make Taylor take off in such a frenzy?” Rachel asked.

“He got mad because I won’t lend him money to bail out his little newspaper. Would you believe he even tried to weasel money out of my mother while she was here?”

Holly found her voice at last. “Mr. Taylor’s real stubborn. He’s been after me too, tryin’ to get some of the money my aunt left me. I don’t even have it yet, but he wants me to promise him some of it.”

“He asked me too, a few days ago,” Rachel said. “He made a very persuasive case, I’ll say that for him. The county does need a newspaper, and he’s pretty passionate about it. If I’d never seen the paper—But I have seen it, and lately it’s started looking like some poor animal that should be put out of its misery.”

Ben laughed and dismissed the subject with a wave of his hand. “To hell with Cam Taylor.” He turned his smile on Holly. “It’s about time you met Sebastian and Hamilton.”

“I’m so excited.” Holly beamed back at him. “I just love
. Are they just like you show them in the comic strip and the TV shows?”

“I think I’ve caught their personalities. I hope you realize, though, that they can’t actually talk.”

“Well, I
that,” Holly said, with a little gust of a laugh.

“They’re going to love you,” Ben said. “How could they help it?”

Her smile widened beyond the point that seemed physically possible, and Rachel had to restrain herself from rolling her eyes. She could understand other women’s reactions to Ben, but she’d known him too long to be fooled by the smooth exterior. She still saw the gawky teenager, too thin for his height, too introverted to mix in groups, happiest when he was alone with his sketch pad or canvas. Although his appearance had changed since they’d grown up as neighbors in Northern Virginia, the person inside was much the same.

“Come on,” Ben said. “Sebastian’s on the porch with Angie.”

As she followed Ben into the house, through the foyer and living room, Rachel experienced the same weird sense of dislocation she felt every time she visited him. He’d bought the house fully furnished from the estate of an elderly woman, and as far as Rachel could see he hadn’t changed a thing in the downstairs rooms during the three months he’d lived here. Queen Anne tables, gold-framed mirrors, brocade draperies and upholstery—not exactly Ben’s taste. The only alterations he’d made were upstairs, where he’d stripped the master bedroom to essentials and had a wall removed so he could convert two smaller bedrooms into a studio.

Ben ushered them through French doors onto the big screened porch, where his dachshund lay motionless on the floor.

Angie Hogencamp watched over the dog from a green wicker settee. Ben’s assistant was a slender young woman with freckles over her cheekbones and brown hair worn in a single braid down her back. “It’s awfully hot out here,” she said to Rachel, “but this is where Sebastian wants to be. We took him inside and he dragged himself right back out again through the pet door.”

“Now he won’t even stand up,” Ben said. He crouched beside his dog and scratched Sebastian’s head.

Placing her medical case on the floor, Rachel knelt and stroked the dog. The remnants of tension over the driveway incident faded as she concentrated on her patient, and her hands once again felt sure and steady. “Hello, love,” she murmured. “That old back of yours acting up again?”

Without raising his head, the dog rolled mournful eyes in her direction. Another furry head bumped Rachel’s elbow, and she reached around to pat Hamilton, Ben’s gray and white Maine coon cat. When the cat turned his attention to Holly, she looked as thrilled as if she were meeting a movie star. She set the acupuncture case on the floor and knelt to pet him.

With Ben looking on like a worried father, Rachel listened to Sebastian’s heart and lungs, and gently probed his abdomen to make sure he didn’t have a simple bellyache from the rich treats Ben fed him. “His vital signs are normal,” she told Ben, returning her stethoscope to her bag. “I’ll give him another acupuncture treatment for his back pain and see how he does.”

Ben, squeamish about watching the needles go in, turned away and gazed out over the back yard flower garden.

Settling cross-legged on either side of the dog, Rachel and Holly nudged him onto his stomach and stroked him until he relaxed. Rachel tore open a package of long, fine needles, located acupoints with her fingertips, and inserted four needles just under the skin along the dog’s spine. With tiny alligator clips, she connected wires to the needles and to the battery-operated electrical stimulator. When she turned on the low-level current, the dog’s back rippled but he didn’t react otherwise.

“Good boy,” Rachel murmured. “Okay, Ben, you can look now.”

He did, but winced at the sight of Sebastian with needles protruding from his back like porcupine quills.

“It’s not hurting him.” Rachel punched in twenty minutes on her pocket timer. “Want me to stick a few needles in you to prove it?”

Angie and Holly laughed at Ben’s expression of horror. “Whoa,” he said, raising both hands to ward off the threat. “I’ll take your word for it.”

Just then footfalls sounded on the porch steps, and they all looked around. Cam Taylor stood at the screen door. He rapped on the frame once, then opened the door and stepped onto the porch.

“What the hell?” Ben sprang forward to intercept him. “You can’t just walk in here. Why are you back, anyway?”

Rachel said, “Maybe he wants to apologize to Holly and me for endangering our lives.”

Taylor ignored her sarcasm and spread his hands as if in supplication. Rachel’s eyes were drawn to the stump of the third finger on his right hand, and she wondered briefly, as she had before, how he’d lost it.

“Yes,” he said, “I did come back to tell you I’m sorry and make sure you’re all right. I’m under a lot of pressure, I’ve got a lot on my mind. But that’s no excuse. Will you accept my apology?”

Rachel hesitated, reluctant to let him off the hook. The man’s face was flushed, and half-moons of sweat soaked the underarms of his blue shirt, but his hair, brown shot through with gray, looked as if he’d tried to tame it before he joined them. He gave her a sheepish smile that made him seem boyish and almost handsome.

Rachel sighed. His apology sounded forced, but at least he’d made the effort. “Sure,” she said.

“All right, you’ve apologized,” Ben said. “Now you can leave. And don’t come back this time.”

Sebastian whimpered, probably reacting to Ben’s harsh tone. Rachel stroked his head.

“I want to apologize to you too,” Taylor said. “I got worked up and I said some things I probably shouldn’t have. If you’ll just hear me out and take a look at the business plan I’ve put together—”

“I’ve already heard your story more than once,” Ben said.

“I don’t think you’ve grasped what’s at stake here,” Taylor said. Rachel heard the strain in his voice as he tried to speak in a calm, measured tone. “We lost the radio station years ago, and if the
disappears too, the people of Mason County won’t have any source of local news. They won’t have anybody to speak for them, to ask the tough questions—”

“Listen to me,” Ben said. “One last time: I’m not handing you a check. I don’t care what you call it—a loan, an investment—I’m not under any obligation to support you.”

BOOK: Broken Places
9.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Only Skin Deep by Cathleen Galitz
The Sheik's Ruby by Jennifer Moore
Fever by Gow, Kailin
Obedient by Viola Grace
A Trip to the Stars by Nicholas Christopher
Crooked by Camilla Nelson
Trespass by Rose Tremain
Paradise by Toni Morrison
Inevitable by Roberts, A.S.