Authors: Pamela Fagan Hutchins
Tags: #Fiction: Contemporary Women, #Mystery and Thriller: Women Sleuths, #Romance: Suspense
2014 USA Best Book Award Finalist
2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarter-finalist
2013 USA Best Book Award Finalist
2012 Winner of the Houston Writers Guild Ghost Story Contest
2012 USA Best Book Award Winner
2011 Winner of the Houston Writers Guild Novel Contest
2010 Winner of the Writers League of Texas Romance Contest
The Katie & Annalise Series
“An exciting tale . . . twisting investigative and legal subplots . . . a character seeking redemption . . . an exhilarating mystery with a touch of voodoo.” — Midwest Book Review Bookwatch
“A lively romantic mystery.” — Kirkus Reviews
“A riveting drama . . . exciting read, highly recommended.” — Small Press Bookwatch
“Katie is the first character I have absolutely fallen in love with since Stephanie Plum!” — Stephanie Swindell, Bookstore Owner
“Engaging storyline . . . taut suspense.” — MBR Bookwatch
The Emily Series
“Grabs you by the throat from the get-go for a suspenseful, rollicking ride.” — Ken Oder, author of
“Full of heart, humor, vivid characters, and suspense. Hutchins has done it again!” — Gay Yellen, author of
The Body Business
“Hutchins is a master of tension.” — R.L. Nolen
“Intriguing mystery . . . captivating romance.” — Patricia Flaherty Pagan, author of
Trail Ways Pilgrims
“In my book . . . the makings of a great novel: cheating husbands, murder, and hot cowboys.” — Melissa Algood, contributing author,
The Michele Series
“Immediately hooked.” — Terry Sykes-Bradshaw, author of
Spellbinding.” — Jo Bryan, Dry Creek Book Club
“Fast-paced mystery.” –—Deb Krenzer, Book Reviewer
“Can’t put it down.” — Cathy Bader, Reader
“Full of real characters and powerful emotions.” — Rhonda Erb, Editor
Copyright 2014 Pamela Fagan Hutchins
To Eric (always)
is a work of fiction. Period. Any resemblance to actual persons, places, things, or events is just a lucky coincidence.
One hundred pounds of squealing pig juked left and went right, and my husband fell for the fake. Mud splashed over his head and splattered our three-year-old on the other side of the fence. A coconut palm did the wave in the distance, lending support to the swine, one island local to another.
“More, Daddy, more!”
Taylor hopped up and down, his hands gripping the middle rail above his head. He looked like the 102nd Dalmatian in his muddy white shirt, a poor choice in retrospect. Even a year after Nick’s sister’s death had left Taylor in our care, I still wasn’t quite up to speed on motherhood.
sounded behind me as the pig’s owner sucked his teeth derisively. The Pig Man shaded his eyes from the sun and peered over at Nick past a rusted-out Buick and some wandering chickens. His voice belied faith in the pig-catching abilities of a mere continental.
“You got to get your arms around the neck and behind the shoulder, meh son. Lock your hands around your wrists. Like this.” He demonstrated with his hands clasped over his head. “Then you slip the rope over he head.” Then he turned his back and went about his business of doing nothing—limin’, as they say on St. Marcos. Strains of Jimmy Cliff singing “The Harder They Come” spilled from his radio. Nick caught my eye and rolled his.
“Yes, sir. I think I’ve got him this time.” My husband stuffed the length of twine back into his waistband, smearing what may not have been mud on himself in the process. Luckily, we had driven separate cars.
Not for the first time, I wondered how I had gotten from there to here so quickly. “There” was my old life in Dallas as a single attorney with a penchant for Bloody Marys; “here” was my new one as a mother of three, married to Nick Kovacs on a Caribbean island.
I looked back at Nick. The pig still had the upper hand. Maybe he knew his fate; tomorrow he would be the main course at a christening party for our three-month-old twins, Jessica and Olivia. On St. Marcos, it wasn’t a party without a roasted pig. That meant a visit to the Pig Man to buy one—but first, you had to catch it.
Nick appeared closer to doing just that. Taylor, the little traitor, was cheering on the pig, which looked like it was getting tired. Nick lunged like the Pig Man told him to and finally slipped the halter over our swine’s head.
“One hour and seven minutes,” I called out.
“I spotted him the first half hour,” Nick replied.
I stifled the smirk tickling the edges of my mouth. The alternative to Nick catching the pig was me in that pen—supportive, appreciative, and awestruck seemed the way to go. “Woo hoo, Nick, I am so impressed. You caught the baby pig. We’re roasting Wilbur!”
“Daddy caught Wilburn,” Taylor announced. He turned to me. “Can we keep Wilburn?”
I wondered what Charlotte would have spun in her web if she’d heard that. “Wilburn” had a nice ring to it.
“Now you’ve started it, Katie,” Nick said as he moved in for a kiss. Despite the pig muck smeared on his shirt and caked on his pants, I let him. I patted him on the behind, too.
The Pig Man nursed a rum and Coke and continued limin’ while Nick wrestled the pig into the small trailer we had borrowed for the day. I applied some spit and elbow grease to Taylor’s smelly spots. When Nick closed the trailer’s door with a clang, the Pig Man roused himself. “That be one hundred and fifty dollar.” He held out his hand. Nick filled it and we bid him good day.
The Pig Man lived even farther up in the rainforest than we did. We pointed our SUVs back down the one-lane dirt road that ran the ridge over the island’s northwestern shore. The cliffs fell away to crashing blue waves below, where the sea was whipped into a meringue against the rocks. Home, rugged home.
Nick’s banged-up maroon Montero pulled to a stop before a small wooden barricade that hadn’t been there earlier. Neither had the wild-eyed man who appeared from the bush, a Heineken in one hand and a machete in the other. His hair stood away from his head in a patchy Afro and his camouflage pants and ragged jam-band t-shirt hung on his bony frame. This should be good. I rolled down my window.
“Dan-Dan, how are you doing?” Nick said.
“You got to pay the toll to pass,” Dan-Dan answered.
“No problem. I’m paying for the lady in the next vehicle, too.”
“That two beers. One for each. You got to pay me two beers.”
Nick pulled out two of the four beers he had stashed in his console for just this reason. Dan-Dan must have been sleeping off yesterday’s collections earlier; we had made the round trip for half price today. “Here you go.” Nick handed him the beers and the sack lunch of fry chicken and johnnycake we had picked up earlier at the Pig Bar. As a recovering whatever-I-was (I refused to say alcoholic), I insisted we give him food, too, even though I honored the requirement of beer. Hopefully Dan-Dan would eat it. “You take care of yourself, now,” Nick said.
Dan-Dan pulled the barricade aside just long enough for our vehicles to pass and then hustled it back into place. I waved at him as I drove by, but he gave no sign that he had seen my gesture.
Taylor waved and shouted, “Hi, Dan-Dan!”
This brought the man’s head up. He smiled, showing his snaggly teeth, and motioned me to stop. I did; Nick kept going. Dan-Dan ran into the bush, then back to my truck. He was not one to waste effort on the niceties of small talk.
“Who that man in the bush at your house?” he asked.
“You mean my husband Nick? Or maybe my father-in-law, Kurt? Kurt is older but he looks like Nick, and you know Nick, right? The one who just drove off, Taylor’s dad.”
He shook his head. “Not dem men. A man like me, a local man. A man who talk about dead people dem.” Pluralization, West Indian-style: them, after a noun, pronounced “dem.”
I swallowed. “Well, I don’t know, but if you see him, tell him to go away.” I tried a laugh. It came out flat.
He pulled a wooden figure out of his pocket and handed it to me. A pig. “For the boy.”
How in the world had this man carved the perfect gift on the perfect day for Taylor?
Taylor strained against his seat belt. “He made Wilburn for me. I want Wilburn.”
I handed it to him. “What do you say, Taylor?”
I turned to thank Dan-Dan myself, but he was gone, back from where he’d come. Some people feared the old guy, but he was all bluster and had never harmed anyone. He was just one of the ragtag personalities that made St. Marcos unique—and one of the reasons that tourists and snowbirds avoided this part of the island. I considered that a good thing.
My phone rang: Nick calling, although we had caught back up to him. “I’m headed into town to the abattoir,” he said.
“I’m so glad it’s you and not me,” I replied.
“I have my uses.”
“Yes, you certainly do.” The tone of my voice left no doubt as to his other uses.
“Hold that thought for later,” he said, and clicked off.
Nick turned left at the next fork and Taylor and I stayed to the right to head back to Annalise. We bounced down the dirt road under a canopy of green vines and pink flowers, past the ruins of an old sugar plantation and up to her gate. A wild tropical orchard lined her drive, and I often slowed down here and rolled down the windows to breathe them in. When the trees parted to reveal her, Annalise stood tall and proud on the crest of a hill, overlooking a forest of mango trees on the valley floor.
We lived in—I might as well just say it and get it out there—a jumbie house in the rainforest. Jumbie as in voodoo spirit.
Yeah, right. I know. I didn’t believe it either at first. I promise I’m not some crazy woman who needs her head shrunk. Living at Annalise just showed me there’s more out there than our first five senses can detect. On St. Marcos, I’d discovered a sort of sixth sense that made me aware of things. Things that were almost undetectable back in Dallas, like someone had hit the mute button. But on St. Marcos, by the sea, I could feel them. I could feel her. Annalise.
The crazed barking of our pack of dogs broke my reverie. We had started with six of them but were down to five after one succumbed to a swarm of bees; the rainforest could be as brutal as it was lovely. Our dogs served us well as security force and welcome committee, and they did both jobs well. Today they alerted my live-in in-laws to our presence, and Julie met us at the door.
“Hi, ’Lise. Hi, Gramma,” Taylor said to the house and Julie before showering our German shepherd with the full force of his attention. Poco Oso and Taylor were best pals.
“Shhh, Kurt is putting the girls down for their nap,” Julie said. “Did you get a pig?”
“Wilbur is on his way to slaughter. And I’m a recently converted vegan.”
Julie and I shared a grimace. No matter how abhorrent the thought of cooking Wilbur was to me, the girls came into this world on St. Marcos, and their christening deserved the full island wingding. Except for the roasted pig, all the food would come from Miss B’s Catering, which we had ordered for delivery two hours earlier than we needed it, in the hope that it would then be on time. Life ran at a slower pace here.
I tiptoed into my daughters’ room. If you closed your eyes and sniffed, you’d know you were in a baby girl’s room: powder, lotion, baby wipes and new diapers. I loved the scent. Not that it always smelled this sweet; with twins, there’s double the diaper issue, but I’m slightly OCD and we took care of stinkers fast. Kurt was rocking Liv in our yellow and blue plaid glider; Jess was already sleeping in her crib. Soft mewling sounds slipped from her lips as I kissed my fingertip and placed it on her cheek. She’d better hope those dainty mewls didn’t become the growly snores of her father someday. I stroked her head, enthralled by the fuzz of the hair she almost had.
Kurt, Julie, and I spent the next few hours preparing Annalise for the party while Taylor had lunch and a nap. Annalise loved a good party, and we could feel her energy level throttle up, but mine began to throttle down as the hours passed and Nick didn’t return. How long could a butcher take, anyway? Maybe it was delayed postpartum depression talking, but it occurred to me that whatever was in town must be a lot more appealing than a wife who still needed to lose ten pounds of pregnancy weight. But I pushed the thought out of my mind. Not my Nick.
At dusk, he drove up to the house, pulling the trailer behind the truck. Kurt, Julie, and I each grabbed a child and ran out to greet him. It’s not every day Daddy brings home a big dead pig.
“Hi, Daddy,” Taylor yelled.
Nick grinned at us and turned off the ignition. He stuck his head out the window. “Who wants to help me bring in Wilbur?”
“Wilburn!” Taylor said as he hopped from one foot to the other.
“Nick . . .” I pleaded, but he ignored my hint to ix-nay the ilburn-way. OK, I’d started it, but ewww.
Kurt handed Liv to Julie and helped Nick carry the dressed pig—swathed in innumerable layers of plastic wrap—to the dining room.
“Oh, no, fellas. Not my dining room table. No way,” I said.
“It’s here or the coffee table,” Nick replied.
“Neither! How about the garage floor?”
“You really want to leave a slaughtered pig on the floor of the garage overnight, up in the rainforest? Really?”
I thought of the traps we kept baited for the rodents of all sizes that ventured in looking for food. The monthly visits from the exterminator. The mahogany birds known in the states as roaches. “Maybe not such a good idea,” I admitted.
“Ya think?” Nick said.
Before I could think of a snappy comeback, someone knocked on the kitchen door. I answered it with Liv poised on one hip. We didn’t get many visitors up here. I opened the door onto a complete stranger who was standing outside the span of light in total silence. No sound or sign of our dogs. Weird.
“Good evening,” I said.
Nick appeared and stepped in front of Liv and me. “Good evening to you. May I help you?” Nick said.
The scruffy local stepped forward and looked around Nick to the baby and me. “I here to see the missus.”
“Go ahead,” Nick said.
“It private business.” He ducked his head forward in an attempt to indicate respect.
Private business? What in Hades could anyone want to talk to me about that Nick couldn’t hear? How odd, I thought, but I wanted to know what the man had to say.
“No offense, but—” Nick started to say.
Uh oh. Nothing good ever came out of Nick’s mouth after “No offense, but.” I interrupted. “It’s OK, Nick. You’ll just be a few feet away in the kitchen. I’ll call you if I need you.”
I immediately regretted my words. This man had an unsettling vibe. I didn’t want to talk to him alone, but it was too late. The look my husband gave me would freeze the blood in the veins of a lesser redhead. He stalked to the kitchen, his footsteps drumming his displeasure in a deep bass tone. I suspected I would have some making up to do later. I almost called out for him to come back, but I pushed my nerves aside.
Don’t be a wuss. He’s only twenty feet away.
“You Ms. Katie that buy this house?”
“I here about the dead.”
“The dead pig?”
“I don’t know nothing ’bout no pig. I here about all the dead people dem under the house.”
Liv whimpered. “Shush, love.” I bounced her lightly. She was falling asleep; not me. This man had shocked my system like a triple espresso. I wasn’t the only one wide awake, either; I could feel Annalise rise up. She didn’t like this man any more than I did. The dogs reappeared in the yard. Where the hell had they been? They kept their distance but formed a rough perimeter around the stranger.
“Excuse me?” I spoke loudly, hoping to draw Nick back to me without scaring my visitor away until I’d heard him out.
“All the dead men and women dem buried under this house,” he said. “I work here, long time ago, building the house. I see skeletons dem with my own two eyes. The boss man—the bad man—he try to cover it up so nobody know. But I know. He put this house on sacred ground. He disrespect the dead.”
Eerie night music filled my ears as thousands of bats’ wings beat the air, vacating Annalise’s eaves to begin their evening hunt. “I’m not sure I understand what you mean,” I said to him.