Author Archives: Christine Husom

About Christine Husom

Christine Husom is a former corrections officer, deputy, and mental health practitioner. She combined her love for writing and solving crimes crafting her Winnebago County Mystery Thrillers, featuring Sergeant Corinne Aleckson and Detective Elton Dawes. Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, An Altar by the River, The Noding Field Mystery, A Death in Lionel's Woods, and Secret in Whitetail Lake are the first six books in the series.

A Gigantic Ball of Twine by Christine Husom

There is a lot of pride displayed in the small town of Darwin, Minnesota. And at the center of it all sits the world’s largest twine ball that was rolled by a single person. It is thirteen feet in diameter, weighs 17,400 pounds, and has a circumference of forty feet. It sits in a display case, a plexi-glass gazebo, across from the town park. Plus it boasts its own museum in an old train depot that sits behind it.

I’d seen the twine ball before, but stopped in again this past summer with a few friends. We were admiring the ball when a friendly woman emerged from the museum and invited us in.

She told us about Francis A. Johnson, a man who had lived his whole life on a farm in Meeker County. He started rolling the ball of twine in his basement in 1950. He spent four hours every day for twenty-three days. At some point he moved the ball to his front lawn, and continued rolling. As it got larger, Johnson used railroad jacks to enable him to keep the ball round. Mr. Johnson wrapped for a total of twenty-nine years and built a circular open air shed to house it, protecting it from the elements.

When Johnson died in 1989, the city of Darwin moved the gigantic ball into town.

In the museum there are photos of Weird Al Yankovic who paid a visit to the town and wrote the song, “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota,” in 1989 as a tribute.

The woman also showed us the ingenious pliers Johnson made from single pieces of wood, without using any glue, or pins to separate the pieces. They open and close, but don’t function as true pliers. He carved the smallest one from a match. The largest is seven feet tall and unfolds to be about twenty feet long. And it has twenty-four more little pliers—the smallest is less than an inch—carved on its handles. Amazing!

If you are in touring through Central Minnesota, west on Highway 12 from the Twin Cities, it’d be worth your while to stop in Darwin and take a long look at the “World’s Largest Twine Ball Rolled by One Man.”

 

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series

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Selling Books at Art and Craft Fairs by Christine Husom

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~Photo with my friend and supporter, Cathy, on the left. She surprised me by coming to one of the art and craft fairs this summer.

I’d been thinking for a while about getting out to more fairs with my books, and researched all the art and craft fairs I could find around Minnesota during the summer. There must be a thousand of them. I sat down with my calendar early last spring, and started deliberating. I eliminated some because of the cost of the entry fee, others because of known conflicts, and still others because the venue didn’t fit for one reason or another.

I chose six I felt were doable, and consulted with my husband because six Saturdays out of a Minnesota summer is a lot. Plus I have a pretty full schedule. overall. Two of the fairs were over 170 miles away, and I didn’t want to leave at 5:00 in the morning to get to them, so I found reasonable nearby hotels to stay in. I’d hoped to take my granddaughters with me to one of them, and my husband to the other, but neither panned out. I got rained out of one fair and wasn’t able to go, but that’s a risk with selling books at outdoor venues.

At one of the events, I shared a booth space with two of my author friends, so that was nice for two reasons: the cost of the booth was split three ways, and I was able to bring a canopy instead of the umbrella I brought to the others. Setting up a 10 foot X 10 foot canopy takes at least two people, and I didn’t want to chance finding a willing helper at the fair.

My sales booth is made up of a six foot table that folds in two, a folding chair, table cloth, and a table umbrella with a stand that I weight down with down with fifty pounds of weights. I also put bungee cords around the umbrella pole and attach them to the supports under the table. Every once in a while a gust of wind will come up, and the weights are crucial.

I have posters made of my eight books and hang them from the umbrella. Not as classy as against a canopy backdrop, but it works. I display my books on the table, along with bookmarks I give away, and a sign-up sheet for my “newsletter.” I assure people about the only time I send something out is when I have a new book coming out. I have hundreds and hundreds of people on my email list. What a great way to get the word out to a large number of people at the same time.

Another thing that has become more and more important at art and craft fairs is the ability to take credit cards. I’ve sold many hundreds of dollars worth of books because I was set up with a Square on my smart phone. Square takes a small percentage, but if it ensures a sale, it is well worth it.

I’ve enjoyed getting out to different parts of the state and meeting new people. I do my best to invite them to my booth by smiling and saying, “Minnesota mysteries by a Minnesota author.” Some stop, others don’t.  Many like to talk, and ask questions, like, “Oh, are you the author?” Or, “Who is your publisher?” “When did you start writing?” Things like that.

Some fairs were better than others, but I always sold more than the entry fee, although with traveling expenses, sometimes I just broke even. Not figuring in the time factor, that is. I was also on a mystery panel in Wisconsin with fellow Twin Cities Sisters in Crime friends. And I’ll be with them again at the Minnesota State Fair on Read and Ride Day. Seven worthwhile marketing events in three months. I hand sell the majority of my books and it is paying off more and more as time goes on. Selling books is not always easy, but if you first sell yourself to readers, it is a giant step forward. People love meeting authors in person. I know I do.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mysteries.

 

 

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The Bounce Back Project by Christine Husom

Last fall, two Minnesota cities and the surrounding areas, had the privilege of participating in a community-wide study—the first of its kind in the United States. It was due to the efforts of some forward-thinking individuals, and the support of the local medical community and other partners. The study was based on the research of Dr. Bryan Sexton, Associate Professor with the Duke University School of Medicine. It addresses resiliency and happiness, and is an on-going project.

According to the website, www.bouncebackproject.org, “The Bounce Back Project is a community initiative to promote health through happiness.” I’d encourage you to visit the website for a more complete look at the components of the project. For this article, I’d like to highlight a couple of things.

The first one is resiliency. Many of us live in a fast-paced world with too many demands. Being resilient enables us to be productive and optimistic which in turn helps our mental and emotional well-being. For me personally, when I’ve been in on-going stressful situations, I’ve had more trouble sleeping, I’m more susceptible to illness, and I’m more forgetful. And those issues often create a myriad of other problems. Learning and practicing resiliency is an important, healthy choice.

The website says, “Resilience is made up of five pillars: self awareness, mindfulness, self care, positive relationships & purpose.

“By strengthening these pillars, we in turn, become more resilient. Instead of experiencing an overwhelming downwards spiral when we encounter stress in our lives, these five pillars work together to lift us up out of the chaos we are feeling.”

Another important and fun component of the project is the “Random Acts of Kindness.”

Cited on the website, “Research has shown that performing an act of kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise that has been tested. We challenge you to find one wholly unexpected kind act to do — and simply do it!”

This past Christmas season, our city police officers handed out $50 and $100 bills, instead of tickets, to people. One woman’s story posted on the Bounce Back Project Facebook page went viral and was picked up by Twin Cities’ news stations. There are many other stories posted by people who received “Random Acts of Kindness” from strangers at grocery stores, or coffee shops, or drive-thru restaurants. There are lists of things to give you ideas on the website, along with the stories that were covered by Twin Cities’ news stations. Have a tissue handy when you watch them because they’re touching accounts.

A compliment, a note, or buying someone a cup of coffee, are easy kind things to do, and might make the recipient’s whole day. Or even his whole week. Imagine what a positive impact we’d see if more people and their communities would get involved in health and happiness initiatives. Think about it.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series.

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Murder in Winnebago County Prologue by Christine Husom

Although this book was published almost 8 years ago, it’s the first book in the series and will be new for those of you who haven’t read it.

Prologue

Alvie’s need to watch was unexpected and gripped her middle with an intensity that pushed the air right out of her lungs. A middle-aged woman guided Judge Nels Fenneman to a chair at the hospital admitting desk. Alvie forgot about leaving, forgot why she was there in the first place, and dropped onto a burgundy, faux-leather seat in the adjoining waiting room. She shifted so she had a clear view of the judge between the spiky fronds of a silk plant.

The booming voice the judge had used to command the courtroom was gone, replaced by hushed murmurs as he quietly answered the necessary questions. Alvie strained to hear, but his words didn’t travel the distance to her ears. Judge Fenneman’s wrinkled face was flushed, harsh under the fluorescent lighting, his color deepening to a purplish-crimson with each coughing spasm that interrupted most of his answers.

Alvie had spent much of the past ten years consumed with thoughts of the man. Fenneman was one of the people responsible for her son’s death. When Alvie wasn’t actively despising him, her hatred seethed just beneath the surface of her consciousness—a living, growing thing with fingers that gripped her throat in the dark of night and lit fires in her head and chest.

The cycle had been the same for years: obsess about what the judge and others had done to Nolan, push it away for a while, obsess, push away, obsess.

The woman with the judge looked vaguely familiar. Alvie studied her a moment and was hit with the realization she was a younger, prettier version of Fenneman. The woman must be his daughter. She had to be. Fenneman was not only still alive, but part of a family. Alvie had never thought of Judge Fenneman as a person before—not really. He was the monster who sat on his elevated bench and ruined people’s lives.

Her world had collapsed ten years before when her son died in prison, and no one cared. Had the judge even given it a second thought? She sincerely doubted it. So much for justice.

The judge’s daughter wrapped her arm around his shoulders and squeezed gently. Alvie felt ill. Her son would not be there to offer his comforting touch when she was old and sick. The one redemption, the thing that gave her purpose for going on, was the granddaughter Nolan had left for her. Rebecca was Alvie’s own little love.

A small brunette nurse approached the admitting desk and assisted the judge into a wheelchair, fussing over him and gently patting his shoulders. She cheerfully told him they would send him home in a few days, as good as new. Alvie grabbed a magazine and bent to hide her face as the trio headed toward her. When they passed, she rose and watched them turn into B-wing. Her granddaughter had a room on the same wing.

Alvie left the hospital quietly, as usual. The mere thought of making small talk and smiling at strangers made her squeamish. At five foot nine, size eighteen, she was a fairly large woman who favored brown or black clothing, even in the heat of summer. Her dull, steel-colored hair, lifeless eyes the same shade, and flat features—devoid of expression—rarely warranted a second look. Alvie moved through life mostly unnoticed. It was her choice and suited her just fine.

She needed a breath of fresh air to fill her depleted lungs, but had to make do with hot and muggy instead. Her clothes clung to her, heavy with perspiration, by the time she reached her car. Days like that, when humidity hung in the air like fog, Alvie longed for the crisp, dry cold of a Minnesota winter day. She cranked the air conditioning to full blast in her ten-year- old, blue Chevy Impala and headed down the curving drive to the main road. It was after nine o’clock—later than she had planned to stay.

Dusk was settling, and as the streetlight came on, Alvie’s gaze was drawn to its reflection spanning across the water of a pond. Funny, she had never even noticed the large drainage area before. Alvie immediately knew there was a reason she had seen the pond that night. She had visited her granddaughter once or twice a day for a week and had not spotted the pond, not once. Until now.

The five miles to her home south of town passed in a blur. Alvie locked herself in and let out a small yelp. She paced and paced, excitement mounting with each step. Ideas bounced to a staccato rhythm in her brain as her heart pounded out its own beat. She walked back and forth late into the night. Eventually, she won control of her thoughts and gathered them into a neat little plan that had logical meaning.

Perhaps the judge would not be going home after all.

Christine Husom is the author of The Winnebago County Mystery Series

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Teaching Creative Writing to an Elementary Class by Christine Husom

I was invited to talk to a group of third, fourth, and fifth graders about the writing process and what goes into writing a book. This will happen tomorrow. Children are a joy to be with. It’s like they have sponges attached to their bodies, sucking in whatever information you give them.

I’ll start out by asking if they’ve ever lain on their backs and watched the clouds move in the sky, and ask them to describe what they saw, how they felt. Someone is bound to say some look like cotton. Then I’ll tell them how when it was snowing recently my four-year-old grandson told me the flakes were big and looked like cotton balls—the clouds were breaking and the pieces were falling to the ground. That’s a great concept for a children’s story.

A few years ago when I spoke to another class I made up large cards containing and explaining the elements of a story/book. We’ll touch on those.

Purpose; why do you want to tell the story?

Setting; what is the location, the time of the year?

Point of View; who is telling the story, is it in first person or third person?

Plot–Story; what are the key scenes moving the story from one point to the next and the actions of the characters?

Characters; how do you make them believable, what drives them, motivates them, what do they care about? What a protagonist or main character is, and what an antagonist is. That a character may be an animal, or a bad storm.

Dialogue; how does it help tell your story and things about your characters? I’ll ask them if their grandparents or teachers or friends all sound the same and use the same words. I’ll tell them it’s important to give their characters different voices.

Pace; what is the speed and rhythm; do you want things to move slow or fast?

Conflict, the heart of fictional plot; what is the struggle between your characters or forces? What is the bad guy doing that the good guy can’t walk away from?

Climax, or when the tension is at the highest, toward the end of the book.

I’ll show them what a manuscript looks like before and after it is published. How a big stack of papers turns into a book.

Then I’ll draw a storyboard:twelve boxes, three rows of four, or four rows of three. In the first box, write down the question the book asks. In the last box, write the answer to that question. The other boxes are the plot points that lead to the eventual answer at the end. Storyboarding chapters is a tool to create logical flow after you have determined what your book is about, and why you are writing it.

And then we’ll write a story together. I used the storyboard technique with a class a few years ago and they came up with a wonderfully creative tale. So, I best get my supplies together so I’m ready to meet my students in the morning.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago Mystery Series, set in Minnesota.

 

 

 

 

 

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Library Book Tour Letter by Christine Husom

 

 

Libraries are a great place for an author to meet new readers and develop relationships with the library staff. Here is a sample of a letter I sent. It proved to be successful, and I booked a number of events. I wrote it on stationary that included a letterhead with my contact information.

Dear Library Personnel (use the librarian’s name)

By way of introduction, I am the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series that includes, Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, An Altar by the River, The Noding Field Mystery, A Death in Lionel’s Woods, and Secret in Whitetail Lake.

I am planning my book signing and author calendar for the next year, and would love scheduling an event at your library. We would structure my visit so it works best for your facility and patrons.

I usually begin my presentation with a talk, giving a summary of my background and what inspired me to write the mystery series. Then I have a question and answer session, and read a passage from one of my books, if people so desire. I will have books for sale and do signings for anyone interested.

It is a privilege to live in a state filled with people who embrace reading and support authors, especially local ones. One of my goals is to sell books, and another is to introduce people to the characters in Winnebago County, and get them involved with what happens in my stories. I am developing a solid following and want to continue growing the number of supporters.

Are you interested in holding an event at your library between January, XXXX and December, XXXX? Feel free to contact me via email or telephone. I will attempt to group my visits by area, since we have such a large state. Thank you for your time and consideration.

All the best,

Christine Husom

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Using Copyrighted Song Lyrics by Christine Husom

I was talking with another author recently, and we got into a discussion about using song lyrics in books, stories, or articles. She’d heard a presentation by an attorney on the subject, and the bottom line is: if you use copyrighted lyrics in your writings, you need permission from the songwriter, his or her estate, or the publishing company. It depends on who owns the copyright.

This generally refers to lyrics published after 1923, and specifically to those written after 1977, because those lyrics are not in the public domain. The best practice is to check any title you’d like to use to ensure you aren’t infringing on another’s rights. And to avoid a possible lawsuit. Here’s the website with the list of songs in the public domain, http://www.pdinfo.com/public-domain-music-list.

Learning who owns the copyright is not always easy, but it is necessary. Once you obtain that information, you can seek permission and see what happens. According to a 10-30-2013 article by Chris Robley on Book Baby Blog:

“The writers and publishers of the lyrics you want to quote are entitled by law to:

* deny you the right to quote the lyrics.

* grant you permission and set the terms for usage.

* ask you to pay them any fee they want for those usages.

* ignore all your requests until you throw your hands up in the air and decide to just invent some song lyrics of your own to fit the scene.”

Have you had an experience acquiring the rights to use song lyrics, or other copyrighted material? I’d love to hear about it.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mysteries. Secret in Whitetail Lake is the sixth in the series.

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What is Your Book Marketing Strategy? By Christine Husom

There are wonderful articles on the many ways to promote your books on on-line venues. Connecting on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and author blogs are key marketing strategies. Someday I hope to more efficiently tap into those markets for effective results.

The truth is, with hundreds of thousands of titles being released each year it’s not easy to stand out in the crowd. Another truth is readers like to meet authors face to face.

Here are some things I’ve learned in the last seven years about promoting myself and my books:

Obtain the names, addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers of the libraries and bookstores in your state, or as far away as you are prepared to travel. Send them an attractive brochure with information about yourself and your books. When I did this a few years ago I booked a large number of gigs and met some great people who have been faithful readers of mine ever since.

When you’re going to be at a library or book event, get an article into the local newspaper with all the specifics. Even if people can’t attend, they’ll know you were there and some will later check out your books.

Join a group like the Sisters in Crime or Mystery Writers of America, specific to your genre. When you have a new release, if you provide them with the information, they will print it in their national publications. In addition to the National SinC, I also belong to the Twin Cities Chapter where I’ve been part of a number of mystery panels at libraries. We’ve even been paid a tidy sum at many of them.

Check out the arts and crafts shows, county fairs, or similar events in your area or as far as you are able to travel. Some are cost-prohibitive, others are very reasonable. I attended five this past year, but there are many hundreds in Minnesota I could have gone to. I sell a good number of books at one in particular fair every year. This year it was 45, a very successful five hours in my opinion. People at that venue now seek me out in my booth to see if I have a new book out.

Whatever event I’m at, I have an email sign-up sheet for anyone who is interested. I put a disclaimer on it promising not to spam them. My reader address book has grown to over 400. I haven’t developed any type of formal newsletter, but I send out a letter when I have a new book coming out with the book cover, back cover blurb, review quotes, and other pertinent information, and the places, dates, and times I’ll be for the book signings.

And that brings up the step I take to get the signings in the first place. When I know the book’s release date, I send a letter to the 47 bookstores and libraries I have email addresses for, about two months prior. Allow a good month to get your book launch schedule set. In addition to the signings set in conjunction with the release, I also tell them I’d love to do an event any time in the upcoming year. That offer is geared more toward libraries, but it also keeps the door open for bookstores. They may keep me in mind for some anniversary celebration or other festival they have planned.

Other great places to introduce yourself and your books known are at conventions. The largest international mystery convention is Bouchercon. Other big ones are Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic, ThrillerFest, and Crime Bake. Getting on the author panels gives you increased recognition and advertisement in the catalog. Also, since five or so different panels on a wide array of writing/publishing subjects are offered almost hourly, it is like taking six or seven classes a day. And the awards banquets are both fun and educational. They cost a fairly large sum of money, so you have to weigh the benefits with your finances.

If I had to sum up my book marketing strategy advice in two words it would be: Develop Relationships. With readers, book store owners, book clubs, librarians, other authors, agents, editors, illustrators, reviewers, and anyone else connected to the writing industry.

What are things you do to market your books?

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mysteries. Secret in Whitetail Lake, the sixth in the series, was released in November.

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Are You a Plotter or a Pantser? By Christine Husom

A question writers are often asked—of other readers and writers alike—is whether or not they outline their stories. Or do they just start writing, and see where it goes?

E.L. Doctorow said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Contrast that with John Grisham’s method, “The books are carefully outlined before I ever start. Chapter by chapter, from beginning to end. And usually tedious and boring and even painful– but it’s the only way to make sure the story’s going to work. Usually the outline is 50 pages long. And the longer the outline, the easier the book is to write.”

I recently moderated a panel discussion at Bouchercon 2015 and posed that question. Three of the authors said they were plotters, outliners, and one said she was a pantser.

It intrigues me to hear what other writers do because it’s not always apparent in their work. There are stories that seem to twist and turn in ways that would hint they were not outlined, and yet they were. And others that seem so carefully plotted, one would believe the writer had a detailed outline he or she was working from.

When I come up with an idea for a story—and mine are currently all mysteries—first I think of a beginning, a way to introduce the crime or the mystery. That gives me the idea of who the bad guy is and how it will end. Then I think of my characters, who they are, and some key plot points that will help move the story along.

I fall more on the pantser side, but I tend to outline a little bit ahead, not on paper, but in my mind. I’ll jot notes here and there as I go along, indicating this or that needs to happen. And then in about the middle of the book I think about what’s happened so far and how things need to move to conclude it, to resolve it all. I also take notes on what has happened in each chapter. It might be called an outline in reverse.

Perhaps there’s not as much difference between plotters and pantsers as people believe. Plotters detail things out ahead of time in the form of an outline, and pantsers detail things out as they are writing the story.

I have tried to outline and I’ve tried to storyboard, but neither has worked for me so far. I find I need to get immersed with my characters in what is happening in their world, meet other characters when they do and watch their reactions. I need to hear the sounds of their voices, and appreciate their differences, and suffer with them when bad things happen. I need to fight for justice and solve crimes with my good guys.

For me writing a book is a lot like living life. When I get up in the morning, I know what’s on my schedule, so I have an idea of what I’m supposed to do. But then I get a phone call or a visit, or something breaks down, or any other curve balls are thrown my way, and what I’d planned changes. So I make new plans. Just like in my books. I have an idea for the next chapter, and then a character does something strange, and I change my plans.

How about other writers out there, are a plotter or a pantser? I’d love to know.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series. Her sixth book, Secret in Whitetail Lake, will be released next month.

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The Secret in Whitetail Lake 12th Installment by Christine Husom

The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department found two bodies in an old vehicle recovered from an area lake, opening up a decades old cold case. And meantime, the sheriff has gone missing. This picks up where the last entry left off last month.

Chief Deputy Kenner determined that it was premature to dust the safe for prints, and if we did, we should have a search warrant. Obtaining that may be difficult given the lack of evidence that someone had broken in and stolen the money. Kenner decided to post deputies around the clock to keep watch on the sheriff’s house until he was found. If anyone tried to gain access, we’d know about it immediately.

I carefully checked the doors and windows, inside and out, and found no signs of forced entry. Then Mother and I went into garage and I looked in the windows of the sheriff’s department-issued vehicle. There were no papers or anything else lying on the seats or the floors. “Man, I think Denny is more of a neat freak than you are, Mom. He even keeps his car as neat as a pin, just like his home and office.”

“He certainly is. And it’s one of the things I really appreciate about him.” Of course she did.

We completed our tasks in fairly short order, and Smoke found us in the garage. “Anything?” he asked and I shook my head. “Then I guess we’re done here for now. Deputy Ortiz pulled up a minute ago and parked back by the sheriff’s lawn shed. He won’t let anything get by him. Kenner has deputies on two-hour shifts here.”

“Good,” I said and turned to my mother. “You look worn out, Mom. Why don’t we drop you off at Gramps’ house and maybe you can take a nap.”

“Corinne, you know I can’t sleep during the day. But it’s probably a good idea to go there, after all. Your grandfather is worried too.”

We delivered my mother to her father’s house then headed back to the sheriff’s office to check on how the investigation of the Dodge Charger was progressing. “I have a better insight on your mother, little lady. And a clearer understanding of what you’ve been complaining about over the years.”

I let out a short laugh. “When I was younger, all my friends told me she was the most protective parent on the planet, and I really had a hard time with that. Then I finally got to the point when I realized she is who she is and she’s not going to change. But amazingly, the one person she seems the most calm around is Dennis Twardy. So not knowing where he is like a double whammy for her.”

“Kristen wasn’t as high-strung in high school, as I remember, and maybe it was because she had your dad. Losing him probably explains the main reason she’s such a worrywart. I’m just not used to people, even under stress, gasping as much as she does.”

I laughed again. “It takes some getting used to, that’s for sure. When I was about ten I vowed to never—under any circumstances—make that sucking-in sound she does. It used to startle me, make me afraid that something awful was happening. Now I barely notice when she does it.”

When we’d arrived at the department, we headed straight for the garage where the team was working on the Dodge Charger. The smaller items we’d help remove from the vehicle were drying on a rolling unit with mesh shelves. The backseat of the car was sitting on a pallet. There were four fans running at a medium speed some distance away. Sergeant Doug Matsen was working alone. After we’d exchanged greetings, we took a look at the few items on the shelves. The wallet, purse and its contents, keys some small tools, what was left of the various articles of clothing, including the letter jacket, and the tire iron from the trunk.

“Are you working alone today?” Smoke said.

“For a while, anyway. Kenner has his hands full with Twardy disappearing and pulled the major crimes guys to help in that effort. Oh, and I got the DNA samples from the victims’ families delivered to the regional lab this morning. The ones you left last night, Detective.”

“Good, thanks,” Smoke said.

“A question for you, Detective. Did you guys carry cement blocks around in your car in the old days for any reason?” Matsen said.

Smoke smiled at his friendly jibe then frowned. “I’ll forget the ‘old days’ wise crack, and answer your question. No one I knew drove around with cement blocks in their cars.”

“I didn’t think so which is what makes the one I found wedged in partway under the front seat so suspicious.”

“Where was it?”

“I’ll show you.” Doug went to the driver’s side and pointed at area of the floor beneath the driver’s seat then he walked over to where the object in question sat on shelf.

Smoke studied it. “Looks like the kind of patio block a lot of people used back then. And still do today, although they’ve gotten fancier, with different sizes and shapes. What are the measurements on this one?”

“Six inches wide, three inches thick, twelve inches long.”

“And weight?”

“Twenty-three pounds.”

Smoke nodded. “Fairly dense. A buddy of mine built an entertainment center of sorts with wooden boards and cement blocks similar to this one, but they were more decorative. Back in the old days.”

Matsen smiled.

“Seems to me that it’d be stupid, and downright dangerous, to carry something that heavy in your car. In the event of a crash, it’d turn into a heavy projectile that would do a whole lot of damage to a human body,” Smoke said.

“People don’t always think of things like that,” Matsen said.

“Unfortunately, you are right on there. The question we have is why Toby would have one in his car.”

“Maybe his dad was building a patio and sent him to get more of the same kind of blocks, and he forgot it was in his car. It could have been on the floor of the backseat, and moved during the crash,” I said.

“That is one possibility, but knowing Toby, he’d have it in the trunk so it didn’t mess up his car. And it’s an easy enough thing to verify with his dad.” Smoke pulled the memo pad out of his pocket and flipped through some pages. “I’ll call him and ask.” He picked up his phone, dialed, and waited. When he was connected, he said, “Hi, Mr. Fryor, it’s Elton Dawes. How are you doing today? . . . Yes, it will take time. Say, Mr. Fryor, I’m sorry to bother you with this, but something came up that raised a question. We found a cement block in Toby’s car and we’re wondering if you’d have any idea why. . . . Wedged under the front seat. . . . No landscaping projects you were working on? . . . Okay, thank you. Be sure to let us know if you need anything. . . . Goodbye.” Smoke hung up and shook his head. “Poor guy. I hope he’s going to make it through all this. He has no idea why the block would’ve been there.”

“Like I said, it’s suspicious,” Doug said.

“Yes, it is,” Smoke said. “Well, Corky and I are heading to the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office to check on things. I’d think if either of our victims had been struck in the head with a cement block, the docs would have noticed that when we removed their bodies from the car. But we’ll ask. Is there anything you need before we shove off, something we can help you with?”

Doug used his shoulder to scratch his chin. “Thanks, I’m good for now, but I’ll holler if I do.”

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series. The Secret in Whitetail Lake is the 6th book in the series.

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