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Authors: Wendy Sand Eckel

Murder at Barclay Meadow

BOOK: Murder at Barclay Meadow
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About the Author

Copyright Page

 

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For Mom, who savored a good mystery

 

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thank you to my daughters, Elizabeth and Madeline. You ground me every day and make the world a brighter, better place just by being you.

A heartfelt thanks to my amazing friends and family. Your unfailing support through hard times and good has sustained me.

Thanks to Mom, whom I miss every day. Your wonder, curiosity, and knowledge continues to guide and inspire me. And to Dad, for sharing your love of the arts and encouraging your children to pursue their talents.

Thanks to my agent, Ken Atchity, for everything, but most importantly, for believing in my book. And to Michael Neff for the great ideas that nudged me closer to getting published.

To my amazing critique group friends: Denny, Susan, Mary, Terese, Greg, Jon, Vicki, and Joe. Thanks for the commas, smiley faces, and belly laughs.

Thanks to all the hard working folks at Thomas Dunne Books. And most especially to my editor, Anne Brewer, for your kindness, talent, and professionalism. I am so lucky to be working with you.

 

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.

—Buddha

Rosalie, come and dust some flour on your hands and drop the dough on the bread board. Now knead it with every part of your hands: fingers, palms, and fists. Don't think, just breathe through your young heart. Bread's very essence allows us to nurture those we love, and feel connected to the good solid earth. For me, baking bread is like coming home.

—Charlotte Gardner

 

O
NE

Before my only child left for her first year of college, she suggested I create my own Facebook profile. Annie said we could “friend” one another, and chat online. That way she wouldn't have to tell me all the details of her life in a daily phone call or tedious texting. I could read all about what she was up to, who her new friends were, and what music she liked. The problem was, so could her other five hundred-plus friends. Ultimately, though, it was the private “chat” feature that sold me. So I created a profile, such that it was.

After two months, I had yet to post a picture or write what was on my mind. My profile didn't declare my relationship status or where I lived because those things had recently changed, rather abruptly, I should add.

Inspiration struck on a crisp, cool day in October when I posted my first status.

Rosalie Hart

Still reeling after discovering a dead girl floating in my marsh grasses.

Mr. Miele was delivered by UPS one day in late October. He was the first friend I'd made in the month since I moved into a two-hundred-year-old house bequeathed to me by my aunt Charlotte. Wedged between the bread box and my now diminished toaster, the coffee bistro's brushed steel sparkled in the low afternoon sun. Although my aunt's kitchen was large enough, with tall, white cabinets and a wall of windows that faced the south, much of the space was taken up by a stone hearth so massive I could stand up in it. Not everyone could stand in it, but at five foot four, my head barely brushed the flue.

Freshly ground coffee beans filled the room with a seductive, earthy aroma. I tucked
The Washington Post
under my arm and carried a double-shot mocha skim latte dusted with cinnamon out to the screened porch, sat down, and stretched my legs out on an old wicker ottoman. The scent of mildew lurked in the faded floral chintz cushions. This old house screamed for attention and at least a bucket of bleach. Later, I thought, and took a long sip of coffee.

I decided to begin with the back of the paper. I'd start with the crossword and Sudoku puzzles, peruse the advice columns, and eventually work my my way to the hard news. Lately I had the attention span of a goldfish.

As I folded the paper open to the crossword, I looked out at the Cardigan River rushing by at the end of the sloping lawn. I started to look down at the paper but stopped. A shock of color caught my eye. It stood out like a flower in a desert—the bright turquoise vivid and glaring against the gunmetal gray water. My nerve endings buzzed with foreboding. I set my cup down, swallowed hard against the dry lump in my throat, and steeled enough courage to stand up.

The sun warmed my skin as I walked. Innocent puffs of high clouds dotted the sky. An osprey glided by and settled into a twiggy nest. I shielded my eyes as I approached, my sneakers squeaking on the grass. I stopped abruptly and covered my nose and mouth when a putrid stench saturated the air. Despite the dread squeezing my heart, I continued.

And then I saw her—facedown in the river. She was cradled by marsh grasses, the lapping water rocked her gently. Grass reeds were tangled in her lifeless hair. Nausea roiled my stomach. Just before I threw up, I noticed what had caught my eye. Strapped to her back was a dainty cloth pack. I recognized the cheerful colors. A Vera Bradley pattern: doodle daisy.

*   *   *

A few hours later I paced through the kitchen waiting for the sheriff and his deputies to finish. Night had crept up the lawn, making shadows of the men as they worked. The lights on their vehicles bathed the house in manic red and blue flashes like a disco.

When they first arrived, Sheriff Joe Wilgus, a large, brooding man with inky black hair, asked me endless questions about the young woman who was now zipped into a thick, rubber bag. My teeth chattered when I spoke and I chewed every one of my nails down to the skin between questions. After I apologized for throwing up on the crime scene, the sheriff seemed to realize I had nothing helpful to say and sent me inside.

I noticed a stain on the white enamel of my sink as I made yet another pass. I dusted it with cleanser and scrubbed vigorously. I heard a throat clearing and spun around to see the sheriff standing in my kitchen. His broad shoulders and over six feet of height filled the small alcove.

“Sheriff?” I brushed my hair from my face with the back of my hand.

“Missus Hart.”

“I'm sorry. I didn't hear you come in. Do you need to talk to me?”

He shifted his weight. His leather holster creaked. “Not unless you have something more to say.”

“No,” I said. “I'm sorry to be so useless.”

His eyes took in my kitchen. They lingered on Mr. Miele. He gave his head a small shake.

“Would you like some coffee?”

“Is that what that thing is? Looks more like something out of
Star Wars
.”

“I'll take that as a yes?”

He settled his bulk into my aunt's spindly antique chair. I filled two cups and set one on the table in front of him. “It's French roast,” I said. “Extra bold.”

He looked up. A deep scowl furrowed his brow. “You mind telling me why you're living out here?”

I stepped back from the table. This was my first time answering that question. “Well … um … I inherited this farm from my late aunt—Charlotte Gardner. You may have known her? And … well, my husband and I recently separated and…” Separated. Is that what I was now? No longer defined by my qualities, I was simply “separated”—like an egg white from yolk. I placed a hand over my stomach and prayed I wouldn't throw up again.

“I wondered if anyone would ever move into this old place,” the sheriff said. “Seemed a shame to have so much good land go fallow.” His eyes met mine. “You do intend to plant some crops, now, don't you?”

I swallowed hard. “Yes. Of course.” I looked out the window. An ethereal fog was rising like a spirit from the dewy grass. I hadn't thought much about the fields. I didn't know how many there were or what, if anything, had ever grown in them. In truth, I hadn't decided how long I would even be living in this old house, let alone whether or not to plant a seed.

“Sheriff…” I said, anxious to move the subject away from my planting crops. I set some cream and sugar on the table cloth and sat across from him, tucking my leg underneath to boost my height.

He tapped the end of his nose. “You got some cleanser on your face.”

“I do?” I snatched up a napkin and wiped my nose.

“You were saying.”

I wadded the napkin in my fist. “What have you learned about the girl?”

“Seems she was a student.” He stirred a heavy dose of cream into his coffee and set the spoon on a napkin. The coffee bled onto the white square. “Had a John Adams College ID.”

“A student.” I thought immediately of my Annie. “Have you told her parents yet?”

“We let the college handle that side of things. Our dispatcher is notifying President Carmichael.” He took a long sip and set the cup back in the saucer, his thick fingers barely able to grasp the delicate handle of my aunt's Spode cup.

“But why aren't
you
telling them?”

“Well, you see, Missus Hart…”

“Please,” I said. “Call me Rosalie.” I smiled over at him.

“As I was saying, Missus Hart, colleges have to be careful about these things. If parents hear students are drowning in the Cardigan River, it can, well, let's just say it might keep people away.”

“How can you be so certain she drowned?”

“Didn't you find her floating in the river?”

“Yes,” I said. “But how do you know someone didn't put her there?”

He leaned forward, resting on his elbows. “Do you know the last time we had a murder in this county?”

“No, of course not,” I said quietly.

“Sixteen years ago when old Percy Tate drank too much at Beeman's bar, went home and shot his wife because he thought she was an intruder.” He finished his coffee in one gulp. “So, how many people would you figure drowned in the Cardigan this year?”

“I'm guessing more than one.” I lowered my eyes.

“You live out here by the river,” he said, tension tightening his voice, “and you think it's just a pretty view. But what you don't see is the current rushing underneath. Even the best swimmers can't stay above the water with it tugging at them, tiring them out, and then sucking them in.” He leaned back. The chair complained. “We've had seven drown so far this year. And now Megan makes eight.”

BOOK: Murder at Barclay Meadow
2.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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