Read The Easter Egg Murder Online
Authors: Patricia Smith Wood
The Easter Egg Murder
Patricia Smith Wood
Aakenbaaken & Kent New York
The Easter Egg Murder
Copyright 2013 by Patricia Smith Wood, all rights reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations for use in articles and reviews.
Aakenbaaken & Kent New York
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance of the fictional characters to actual persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. Author photograph by the Kim Jew Photography Studio
To my wonderful father, the late Thomas J. Smith, Deputy Assistant Director, FBI (Retired) who first told me the story about the unsolved murder of Cricket Coogler, and who encouraged me to write.
And to the late Tony Hillerman, author of the popular Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee mysteries set on the Navajo Reservation, for providing much needed information about the Coogler case, and for encouraging me to go forward with the fictional version.
The mental picture of the lonely writer slaving over a typewriter in a cold garret somewhere in Paris sounds romantic. But all the writers I know have a team of friends, family and other writers who encourage them and help with the journey of completing and publishing a book. I have a stable of wonderful people who were with me through that journey. This is where I get to tell you about them.
My talented and published critique group brought me into their midst at the most auspicious time of my life
and offered me support and guidance. Many of them read the entire manuscript. Thank you to Margaret Tessler (who introduced me to the group), Mary Blanchard, Charlene Dietz, Edie Flaherty, Jeanne Knight, Betsy Lackman, Marcia Landau, Jan McConaghy, Joan Taitte, Mary Zerbe and the late, talented Ronda Sofia who unfortunately did not live long enough to see her work published. Thanks to two other wonderful writers who read parts of the story and offered suggestions: Joseph Badal and Earl Staggs.
Thanks to all the excellent instructors at the conferences I’ve attended over the years. The Hillerman Writers Conference allowed me to meet some wonderful authors who generously shared their knowledge and encouragement. Special thanks go to Sandi Ault, who taught classes of great value and mentored me more than I could have imagined.
Thanks to the other friends who agreed to read and critique the book in all its versions: Pat Priebe, Lois Twyeffort and Richard Turner. That’s service above and beyond the call. Also a big thanks for Ann Paden who gave it her professional editorial critique and seal of approval.
Then there was my very special, hunky FBI agent, literary critic/advisor, who made sure I didn’t endow the FBI with more juice than they have.
When I needed help with editing (more than once) my long-time friend, Joan Taitte, stepped up and did an amazing and thorough job. She’s wonderful, even if she did want to do away with the cat.
And finally, I could never have finished this project without the love and support of my amazingly understanding and supportive husband Don and my equally precious daughter Paula. They both gave their best evaluations and encouragement and made sure I had the time and the kick in the pants when I needed it. Aren’t families wonderful?
The high desert of New Mexico is a lonely place to die
. Only coyotes, jackrabbits and prairie dogs would have heard the screams. Even the moon hid its face, leaving the distant stars the sole source of light.
The boys watched the early gray dawn melt away as the sky above the Manzano Mountains flushed pink with a new morning. A hawk circled high overhead, drifting lazily with the current. To the West, Los Huevos Peak reflected the sun’s first rays, and to the South, the small town named for the peak was barely visible.
Charlie, Jake and Freddie loved the desert in the early morning. They loved catching lizards at the foot of Los Huevos Peak, especially when those creatures were still lethargic from the previous night’s cold. But today was Easter and there was a price to pay—their parents had ordered them to return in time for Mass. Already they regretted making such a promise.
They left their bikes beside the narrow dirt road and walked toward the rock formation
, Charlie in the lead.
Something strange caught his eye, and he stooped to pick up a red high-heeled shoe
. He was about to toss it away when he noticed the bare foot protruding from behind the boulder.
He gazed at it, uncomprehending, and yelled to Jake and Freddie, “Hey you guys! Come over here and take a look at this!”
The other two boys ran to join Charlie but stopped short when they saw the foot. Freddie turned pale, his jaw dropped and he gulped air.
Jake stared, wide-eyed. “Is that a real foot?”
Charlie moved farther to the left so he could see behind the boulder. The red shoe slid from his hand and landed on the ground with a soft plop.
,” he moaned. “Oh, God!”
Jake joined Charlie
and stood on tiptoes to see over his shoulder. He instantly regretted it. A woman in a red dress lay on her back, arms crossed over her chest. One leg stuck out straight from her body, the foot shoeless. The other leg was bent at the knee, its foot encased in the mate to the red shoe. Her clouded eyes stared blindly at the pink tinged sky. A crimson scarf encircled her neck, and her long, black hair, littered with leaves and debris, fanned out from her bloodless face in a tangled mass.
A gust of cold wind touched down and ruffled her hair, t
hen moved on, stirring the sand and sending it skyward in a slender spiral.
Charlie shivered. Lizards would never entice him back to this place.
Sunday Morning, April 9, 2000
“Why didn’t I just kill the jerk when I had the chance?” She muttered, mostly to herself.
The question had periodically occurred to Harrie McKinsey for the past thirteen years. It was a dumb question. She could never kill anyone, even her ex-husband, no matter how big an ass he was. But if anyone ever needed killing, it was Nick Constantine.
“Did you say something?” Ginger Vaughn looked over the top of her glasses.
“I said why would anyone murder someone and then drive all the way out to the desert to dump the body?” Harrie frowned. Why did reading about murder always bring Nick’s image to mind?
Ginger shook her head and grinned. “Oh, I don’t know. How about, the desert is deserted, and a body could lie out there for months before being discovered?”
“Okay, let me rephrase that. If the murderer took the trouble to take the body out there, why wouldn’t he at least bury it? Why leave it there where those kids could find it?”
The two women had worked seven straight days on their latest editing project, and they were beyond tired. They had started the business six months earlier and were now getting some good clients. Their first big break came when Ginger’s godfather, Senator Philip Lawrence hired them to help with his book about his senate career. Then, three weeks ago, he hired them to transcribe and edit his new manuscript about the real-life murder of a young woman half a century ago. This job presented numerous challenges. For one thing
, they might need to do some of the research work for him, and they needed an assistant. So far, no candidate had survived the first interview.
Ginger looked on as her best friend struggle
d with the coffee maker. They had instantly bonded that first day in seventh grade in 1974. In school the boys used to call them Mutt and Jeff. The blue-eyed, raven-haired Ginger was a good four inches taller than Harrie, who was barely five feet, five inches. They made quite the picture. She joined Harrie at the sink.
“Sweetie, what’s wrong? You’ve been agitated all morning. Something’s bothering you.”
Harrie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She flashed Ginger a crooked grin, but her hazel eyes looked tired and puffy. “I had the dream again last night.”
“The one about the body?”
“Yep, and it woke me up. I couldn’t get back to sleep.”
“Was there something different about it this time?”
Harrie shrugged. “I think so, but I can’t remember what. My heart was pounding, and I had this awful sense of dread.”
Ginger remained quiet as she finished filling the coffee pot. She turned back to Harrie, her jaw set in determination.
“You’re coming home with me. Steve is cooking on the grill, and you and I need a break.”
“No way. I won’t intrude on your family cookout. You’ve barely seen the boys all week, and Steve must be
annoyed with us by now. All we’ve done is work, work, work.”
Ginger raised an eyebrow. “You know better than to argue with me. Even when I’m
home, my sons are way too busy with soccer, homework and girls to miss having Mom around. They are, after all, fourteen-years old. Besides, you need to think about something besides that crazy dream.”
Harrie smiled at the picture of authority
, the much taller Ginger with hands on hips and chin set in a “do-not-argue-with-me” look.
“Gee, how can I refuse an invitation like that?”
Ginger’s face softened. “Well, obviously you can’t. At precisely 1:30, we lock up and go spend the rest of the afternoon sitting on my patio, drinking wine and thinking only of wonderful food and friends.”
Harrie looked out and saw dark clouds gathering over the Sandia Mountains
, backdrop for the east side of Albuquerque and ever-changing canvas for its fickle spring weather. At the moment, they fit her turbulent state of mind. She forced her focus back to the manuscript.
“Not to change the subject, but do you remember hearing anything about this murder from Senator Lawrence when you were a kid?”
“Not really.” Ginger smiled as she thought back. “He and Dad spent hours talking about all kinds of things, but I didn’t pay much attention.”
Harrie said, “I wonder why he’s writing this particular book now. He’s not
even finished with the Senate book.”
don’t know. But he seems really fired up to get into this one.”
’t even living here when it happened, was he?”
“I don’t think so.” Ginger’s face lit up. “Why don’t you ask him tomorrow afternoon? I’m going over to his house to take the pages we’ve finished, and it would be a
good opportunity for you to see him again.”
Harrie hesitated. “I don’t know. To tell you the truth, he intimidates me.”
Ginger’s mouth dropped open. “You’re kidding me! Why?”
“Remember what happened at your wedding? After Steve introduced me to Nick, the senator wa
lked over, gave me a stern look and said I should be careful. I don’t remember him saying a dozen words to me before that day. He obviously didn’t approve of Nick.”
Ginger said, “I never told you this, but I found out after you divorced Nick that Philip knew some damaging things about him. At that time he didn’t indicate what, just that you should have been more cautious.”
Harrie frowned. “Why didn’t you say something before?”
by the time he told me, Nick was gone. Things happened so fast with you two. You eloped and then five months later you’re broken hearted, financially ruined, and left hung out to dry. When Philip found out you were divorced, he felt bad he didn’t warn you more thoroughly.”
Harrie shook her head. “I’m surprised he paid any attention. After all, he didn’t know me that well.”
“Philip told me Nick had some connection to illegal gambling. Steve and I talked it over and decided we didn’t want to burden you with that information.” She grinned at Harrie. “We kept a close eye on you.”
Harrie smiled at the memory. “
Yes you did. You and Steve also started trying to fix me up with someone before the dust of Nick’s departure had settled.”
Good thing we did. Otherwise, you and Mark wouldn’t have met.”
Harrie’s throat tightened, and she turned away.
Ginger groaned. “Oh Harrie, what a stupid thing for me to say.”
Harrie swallowed hard and turned back to smile at her friend. “It’s okay. It’s been five years, after all.”
Ginger rushed to hug her. “Hey, you take all the time you need. I only remember how happy you were. I try not to think about what happened.”
“It’s okay. I rarely fall apart anymore
. But for the last couple of weeks it’s been on my mind more than usual. Maybe it’s working on this manuscript.” Harrie’s shoulders sagged. “I think about that poor girl and the way somebody left her out there. It’s a miracle they discovered her before the scavengers did.”
The distant rumble of thun
der filled the awkward silence.
“Come on,” Ginger said, “let’s finish up these next few chapter
s before we leave for the day.”
Harrie said, “Woman, you are a slave driver. Remind me to complain to my union rep.”
A pleasant rhythm settled around them as they worked. When Ginger announced it was 1:30, it surprised Harrie that time had passed so quickly. With her concentration on work interrupted, her mind drifted back to the unsettling dream from the night before and the nagging question that accompanied that memory. How did last night’s dream differ from the others? Why couldn’t she remember? She kept seeing the body of a woman stretched out on the ground. But there was something else. What?
She sighed and went to gather up her belongings. In the restroom
, she touched up her lipstick and smoothed her hair. She studied her face in the mirror.
You are a mess, woman.
She returned to the conference room in time to
see a brilliant flash of lightning followed by a loud crack of thunder. Harrie jerked reflexively. Now she remembered what was different about the damn dream. Another body lay beside the strange woman. With a sick feeling, she realized the second body in the dream was Senator Philip Lawrence.