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Authors: Merry Jones

Tags: #Mystery: Thriller - Paranormal - Philadelphia

Merry Jones - Elle Harrison 01 - The Trouble With Charlie

BOOK: Merry Jones - Elle Harrison 01 - The Trouble With Charlie
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Merry Jones - Elle Harrison 01 - The Trouble With Charlie
Elle Harrison [1]
Merry Jones
Oceanview Publishing (2013)
Tags:
Mystery: Thriller - Paranormal - Philadelphia
Elle finds the body of her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Charlie, on her sofa, stabbed to death with her kitchen knife. Elle's close friends stand by her through the difficult funeral, but Elle alone must face the loss of the man she'd loved—except that the loss is not total; Charlie is still around.
Elle feels his presence, smells his aftershave, hears him accuse her of killing him. And even though she doesn't believe in ghosts, she argues with him, asserting her innocence.
Oddly, Elle has a gap in her memory; she can't account for her activity during the time of his murder. As she tries to clear herself by finding out how Charlie died, she discovers that she had plenty of reason to kill him. Charlie had secrets. Infidelity. Unsavory business associates. Involvement with an international organization of sex abusers.
The more she learns, the more danger she faces. As unscrupulous people begin to fear she'll expose them, Elle races against time to avoid arrest, fight off attackers, solve the murder, and make peace with Charlie's spirit.
THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE

H
ARPER
J
ENNINGS
T
HRILLERS
Winter Break
Behind the Walls
Summer Session

Z
OE
H
AYES
M
YSTERIES
The Borrowed and Blue Murders
The Deadly Neighbors
The River Killings
The Nanny Murders

H
UMOR
America’s Dumbest Dates
If She Weren’t My Best Friend, I’d Kill Her
Please Don’t Kiss Me at the Bus Stop
I Love Her, But …
I Love Him, But …

N
ONFICTION
Birthmothers:
Women Who Relinquished Babies for Adoption Tell Their Stories
Stepmothers:
Keeping It Together with Your Husband and His Kids

THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE

A Novel

Merry Jones

Copyright © 2013 by Merry Jones

FIRST EDITION

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

ISBN: 978-1-60809-074-7

Published in the United States of America by Oceanview Publishing, Longboat Key, Florida

www.oceanviewpub.com

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

To Robin, Baille, and Neely
Acknowledgments

Heartfelt thanks to Rebecca Strauss at McIntosh and Otis; Robert and Patricia Gussin, Frank Troncale, David Ivester, George Foster, and Susan Hayes at Oceanview Publishing;

Fellow Philadephia Liars Club members Jonathan Maberry, Gregory Frost, Kelly Simmons, Marie Lamba, Solomon Jones, Don Lafferty, Dennis Tafoya, Jon McGoran, Keith Strunk, Keith DeCandido, Ed Pettit, and Stephen Susco;

Friends and family, especially my husband and first reader, Robin.

THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE
PROLOGUE

Sometime before Charlie moved out, I began reading the obituaries. It became a daily routine, like morning coffee. I didn’t just scan the listings; I read them closely, noting dates of death, ages of the deceased, names of survivors. If there were photos, I studied faces for clues about mortality even though they were often grinning and much younger than at death. Sometimes there were flags at the top of notices, signifying military service. Salvadore Petrini had a flag. Aged sixty-four. Owner of Petrini’s Market. Beloved husband and father and stepfather and brother and uncle. Viewing and Life Celebration at St. Patrick’s Church, Malvern.

Some notices were skeletal, giving no details of the lost life. Sonia Woods went to be with the Lord on August 17. Viewing Friday, from nine to eleven, First Baptist Church. Service to follow. These left me disturbed, sad for the deceased. Was there, in the end, really nothing to be said about them? Were their lives just a finite number of breaths, now stopped?

For weeks, I followed the flow of local deaths and funerals. I tried to surmise causes of death from requests for memorial contributions in lieu of flowers. The American Cancer Society. The Vascular Disease Foundation. The American Heart or Alzheimer’s Association. When there were details, I read about careers accomplished, volunteer work conducted, music played, tournaments won. Lives condensed to an eighth of a page. Less, usually.

Though the notices were brief, the words and patterns of language had a gentle, rolling rhythm, comforting, like prayers,
like nursery rhymes. And between listings, stark and straight lines divided one death from another, putting lives neatly into boxes, separating body from body. Soul from soul. Making death quantifiable and normal, a daily occurrence neatly announced on paper in black and white, on pages dense with ink, speckled with gray smiling photos. Smiles announcing that death wasn’t really so bad.

I don’t know why I was compelled to read those listings every day. At the time, I’d have said it had to be about the death of my marriage. After all, my own life, in a way, was ending. My life as Charlie’s wife was dying, but there would be no public acknowledgment of that demise. No memorial service. No community gathering to mourn. Maybe I read the listings to remember that I wasn’t the only one grieving, that others had lost even more. Still, I would have felt better if the obituary page included dead marriages and lost identities: Mrs. Charles Henry Harrison (nee Elle Brooks) ceased to exist on (date pending), when the couple’s divorce became final. Maybe it would help to have some formal recognition of the demise of my former self. Maybe not.

It’s possible that my own losses brought me to the daily obits. But I doubt it. Looking back, I believe what drew me was far more ominous. A premonition. An instinct. For whatever reason, though, every morning as I chewed my English muffin, I buried myself in the death notices, studying what I could about people who were no more, trying to learn from them or their photos or their neatly structured notices anything I could about death.

Of course, as it turned out, the notices were useless. None of them, not one, prepared me for what was to happen. According to the obituary columns, the circumstances of one’s life made no difference in the end. Dead was simply dead. Final. Permanent. Without room for doubt. The pages I studied gave no indication of a gray area. And the boxes around the obituaries contained no dotted lines.

OCTOBER

Bottles glowed amber and jade along the mirrored wall. Toned bartenders did their signature dance: reaching, pouring, swirling. Gliding along the narrow, dimly lit alley of spigots and glassware, serving up alcohol-laden concoctions to a thirsty crowd clustered along the bar. Music amplified to too many decibels pounded percussion without melody. Happy Hour at a mostly singles bar. What diabolical cynic had come up with that name? Dubbing as “happy” the dire, loneliest moments before dark, the time when people cling to each other in primal desperation.

I was no exception that night; I was among them.

“You have to start sometime,” Becky had nagged me. “You can’t just sit home forever.”

It had only been a few weeks, I’d argued.

“It’s been almost three months.”

But I wouldn’t know how to act, what to talk about. Hadn’t been out on my own in a decade. I was rusty. Didn’t know how to flirt.

“Just be yourself. You don’t have to flirt. Just let go. Dance. Have fun.”

Great. I hated dancing, wasn’t good at it. I reminded her.

“Don’t be so defeatist. What else will you do—stay home and watch
NCIS
reruns?”

Why not? Mark Harmon was kind of hot, for an old guy.

“Fine. Don’t complain when you’re eighty and dying alone. Remember what you told me after I broke my engagement?”

“Which one?”

“Very funny, Elle. But any of them—all of them. You said, ‘The best revenge against a man who breaks your heart is to celebrate your life without him.’”

She was right. I had said that. Good advice, too.

“So now it’s your turn. Come out with me. Celebrate.” She’d kept it up, having an answer for each of my excuses until I’d caved, and there I was, standing in a bar, staring at glowing bottles, feeling clumsy and conspicuous and not very successful at celebrating my life. The Miller Lite in my bare wedding-ringless hand was empty again. I waved for another over the pounding music, its thumping bass relentless, reminding me with every slamming beat, of sex. Which, with Charlie out of my life, I might never have again. But that was absurd. Of course I would. Someday. Right?

The bartender put another bottle in front of me and I put a few bills in front of him, still thinking about sex with Charlie, his bare chest and shoulders poised above me in bed. Trying to stifle the images. Lord, I could kill him. Sometimes fantasized about it. Had even discussed it with various sympathetic girlfriends, most recently at lunch just the day before.

“You’d have to make it look like an accident,” Susan had admonished. She was a criminal defense attorney, always practical. “Overdose him on his blood pressure meds. It’ll look like a heart attack. And an autopsy would be inconclusive. They couldn’t prove he didn’t accidentally OD.” She’d forked grilled tuna to her mouth, brows knit, thinking.

“No. Make it look random. Like a mugging or a carjacking.” That had come from Jenny. Blonde, a body that poured into her clothes, eyelashes so long you could trip over them, a voice like silk. “Shit, if I was going to kill Norm, that’s what I’d do.” Jen’s husband Norm owned things, including most of some NBA team. Or was it NHL? Her fingers glittered with diamonds. “I’d definitely shoot him and make it look like an RGB.

RGB. I’d had no idea.

“RGB?” Susan had apparently no idea either.

Jen had rolled her eyes. “Robbery Gone Bad.” As if the meaning were obvious.

“Shooting’s too violent.” Becky had lowered her voice, looking around cautiously. “But remember, women usually use poison.” I’d wondered how Becky knew that. She was a kindergarten teacher. How did she know this about poisons? Was it common knowledge that had somehow passed me by? I’d watched my share of cop shows, had learned my share of forensic science. “So don’t poison him.”

“And if you stab him, remember to restrain yourself.” Jen spoke with authority. “Be efficient. Too many wounds looks like a crime of passion, not just random.”

“And have a good alibi. Cops always assume the spouse did it.”

They all nodded and agreed. My best girlfriends: a lawyer, a teacher, a rich housewife. Experts on murder.

“But even if she gets arrested, no jury will convict her once she tells them about Charlie—”

Somehow they’d begun talking about me as if I weren’t there. The conversation had stopped involving me, had become about me. “Right. They’d let her off with time served. How many years were they married? Ten? That’s a long enough sentence.”

They’d laughed. They’d gone on, concocting detailed scenarios. I was to lure Charlie over in the dead of night, shoot him, and claim that I’d mistaken him for a prowler. Or hide in his condo’s parking garage until he came home, shoot him, and take his wallet and his watch. Or hire someone to do it for me. All the ideas seemed familiar, like
Law and Order
reruns, but I’d drifted in and out of the conversation, watching from various distances as my friends had brainstormed from salads through coffee, offering and amending ideas with enthusiasm and
delight. Not one had expressed disapproval at the thought of my killing Charlie. Not one had seemed the slightest bit appalled or surprised. They’d seemed comfortable with the idea, regarding Charlie’s murder as a reasonable, even a positive alternative to divorce.

But, of course, the conversation hadn’t been serious. It had merely been lunchtime amusement. Entertainment, like the bar’s pounding music. Except the music was more painful than entertaining. It shook the floor, hurt my head. Made me remember what I didn’t want to remember: the rhythmic whamming and thrusting of Charlie’s pelvis. Damn.

Above me now was no pelvis, just a big screen playing football highlights.

Happy Hour. Did other people feel as self-conscious as I did? Or did they think this was fun? I looked around. Saw toothy smiles and drinks. Body heat. Commotion. Mostly I saw need. Maybe I was projecting. Lord, I felt uncomfortable.

The place was called Jeremy’s. On Main Street in Manayunk, pronounced “Mannyoonk,” a Native American word meaning, “the place to go to drink.” And, for many professional single Philadelphians, it was. People were. I stood at the bar like a grinning stunned doe, watching people wander and cluster. I gulped Miller and nibbled carrot sticks from the array of free munchies, trying to pretend that I was in fact having an excellent time and that anyone who talked to me would also have one. With a cheerful semismile pasted onto my face, I determined not to look like a wallflower as I watched Becky wag her hips to the music and shimmy and shake with a skinny guy who had fashionable facial hair. She smiled at me, gesturing that I should join in. “Come on, Elle. Dance with us.”

BOOK: Merry Jones - Elle Harrison 01 - The Trouble With Charlie
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