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.

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.

3 Comments

Filed under blogging, Christine husom, life, writing

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

2 Comments

Filed under books, Christine husom, Excerpts, writing

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.

 

 

 

 

 

8 Comments

Filed under Christine husom, How To, marketing, writing

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

3 Comments

Filed under blogging, Christine husom, marketing, writing

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.

2 Comments

Filed under blogging, Christine husom, music, writing

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.

6 Comments

Filed under blogging, books, Christine husom, marketing, writing

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.

18 Comments

Filed under Christine husom, fiction

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christine husom

The Secret in Whitetail Lake 11th 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.

Chapter 6

Chief Deputy Mike Kenner called a meeting for eight o’clock the next morning. Smoke phoned me at seven. “It’s for all the command staff and supervisors,” he explained.

“If it Kenner got out of his recovery bed, it must be about the sheriff.”

“Yeah, the media got wind of it and let’s just say if—when—it gets posted on a social media site, it will go viral.”

“Great. I wonder if there is a big bubble somewhere I can put my mother in until the sheriff reappears.”

“Corky, I know you do your best to protect your mother, and most of the time it’s with good reason. But in this case she’s gotta know what’s going on so she doesn’t get blindsided by a reporter calling her or showing up at her door.”

“You’re right. I’ll ask her to get one of her helpers to run the store today, and she can spend the day with Gramps.”

“Or you.”

Me?”

“Sure, why not? It might help her if we included her, like at the meeting.” Smoke was a brave man.

“I’ll see if she wants to. And you’ll clear it with Kenner?”

“I will, shouldn’t be a problem. And Kristen can tag along with us when we head to the MEs office if she wants, and when we check on how our team is doing with the Charger.” A very brave man.

“You don’t think it will bother anyone to have my mother there gasping every five minutes?”

Smoke chuckled. “You have a point. We’ll start with the meeting and take it from there.”

After we’d hung up, I phoned my mother who surprisingly did not ask a hundred questions and agreed to letting her helper run the shop. Her voice was shaky when she said, “Thank you for taking me to Chief Deputy Kenner’s meeting with you. That means a lot.”

“Sure. I’ll pick you up at seven-forty-five.”

“I’ll be ready.”

I scrambled a bit, showering, dressing, and getting Queenie situated in her kennel. My mother was waiting on the front step of her old farmhouse when I pulled into her driveway. Every once in a while it struck me how lovely she was. She could have been posing for a fashion shoot, wearing a mid-length flowing navy skirt with a subtle ivory print, ivory silk shirt, and a smooth, button-less navy waist-length cardigan sweater.

She waved and attempted a small smile when I stopped then jogged to the car in seconds, hopped in, and buckled up. “Morning.”

“Morning. Did you get any sleep?” I asked as I turned my car around and headed toward town.

“A few hours maybe. I know I worry too much about you and John Carl and Gramps. And maybe some other things. But this is different.”

“It is different. Denny has always been dependable and we’re all feeling a little lost here.”

When Mother didn’t answer, I glanced over and saw her lip quivering and a tear spill from her eye. It broke my heart to see her suffering. We didn’t talk for the rest of the drive. When I’d parked into the sheriff’s department lot, I turned to. “You don’t have to go to the meeting, you know.”

She looked at me and patted her face with a tissue. “Yes, I do.”

We walked into the office and the staff did not hide their looks of curiosity when we passed by. The sheriff was missing and his fiancée was in the building. Did we know more about the disappearance than we were letting on? Had the sheriff been abducted after all? That’s what it seemed to me were the possible questions they didn’t dare ask.

We reached the squad room that had been converted into a conference room for the meeting. A sign PRIVATE MEETING was posted on the outside of the door. When we went inside, Chief Deputy Kenner graciously captured one of my mother’s hands in a warm embrace and put his other arm around her shoulder in a hug. “Thanks for coming, Kristen.”

She nodded and tucked her lips in like she was doing her best not to break down. Smoke came over, blinked his eyes at me, gave Mother a hug then steered her to a seat at the large table. He sat down next to her and I mingled for a minute before finding a seat on the opposite side of the table.

Extra chairs had been brought in to accommodate the twenty plus command staff, detectives, and supervisors. The temperature in the room was rising with the body heat of concerned officers. Although I didn’t often suffer from claustrophobia, I felt uneasy. Tense. Glancing around at the others, with all the body shifting going on it was clear I was not the only one.

Kenner clapped his hands together in front of his chest for everyone’s attention. “Okay. Let’s get started. We’re here about our sheriff, and I thought it’d be good to apprise you of where we’re at in terms of the investigation.”

My mother flinched a little, but remained dry-eyed and silent.

“A number of you got quite a case dropped in your laps yesterday, and we’ll keep working on that, along with all the other balls we got up in the air. Meantime, I think all of us can agree that our top priority is locating Sheriff Twardy.”

That caused a moment of quiet conversations.

“So, what do we know so far? Somehow Twardy got to the parking garage without being seen. He drove his unmarked vehicle to his house and parked it in his garage. His personal vehicle is not in his garage. I’ve had Detective Conley—who couldn’t be here this morning, or he’d give you his report himself. Anyway, Conley’s checked on both credit card transactions and also cell phone pings in the five county region. Unfortunately, he’s come up empty-handed so far, which we all know is extremely frustrating. On the other hand, we’re holding on to the hope that no news is good news.”

More rumblings among the troups.

Sergeant Warner was leaning against a back wall and took a step forward. “What can we do to help?”

“It’s important for all of us to have the same story to give to the media, or to Joe Citizen, or what have you. Detective Dawes and I put our heads together this morning and came up with a statement that is honest, and hopefully not too alarming. Detective?” Kenner looked at Smoke.

He nodded and stood up. “We decided to follow the KISS method in this situation so our message is simple: Sheriff Twardy left work of his own volition at nine-twenty yesterday morning without sharing his plans with his staff. We haven’t heard from him, but have no reason to suspect foul play at this time. And if anyone has contact with him, please have him call his office.”

My mother sucked in an audible gasp. I knew she couldn’t help herself. A few of the staff shook their heads and others nodded. It was a mixed bag of reactions. My mother looked from Smoke to Kenner. “I’ve wondered about this, but I’m not sure if it’s a good idea or not,” she said.

It seemed like her words drew everyone in the room closer to her.

“What’s that, Kristen?” Smoke asked, his voice as gentle as a soft rain.

“Well, you know he has a brother.”

A few officers shrugged, like they may or may not have known.

“Oh, sure. Norman’s his name. He’s in a nursing home in Arizona if I remember right,” Smoke said. “I’m embarrassed that I kind of forgot about him.”

Kenner chimed in, “The sheriff hasn’t talked about him for quite some time. I’m not sure where he’s at, medically speaking.”

Mother raised her hand for the floor. “And that’s just it. Poor man has dementia pretty bad, from what Denny says. He’s wanted to go visit him, but it’s hard on him, since Norman doesn’t know him anymore.”

“We’ll contact the home; see if the sheriff has called there the last day or so.”

There was silence for a bit then Mother said, “What else can we do to find him?”

Kenner focused his attention on her. “Kristen, you have a key or the code to Denny’s house?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“We haven’t looked inside yet because we don’t believe he’s there. We checked the doors and windows and there’s an alarm system, as you know. Since you have permission to enter his home, I’d like you to go there with your daughter and Detective Dawes, take a look around, see if he left any indication of where he might be. Will you do that?”

“Of course.” Mother found me across the table and I gave her a thumbs’ up.

“And we have every agency in the state keeping a watch out for him. Since it’s been almost twenty-four hours with no word, we’re going to issue a statement to the media—press, radio, and television—with the same message Dawes gave you. And if anyone tries to pump you for more information, refer them to me. We don’t need all kinds of rumors flying around the county or the state. Any questions?”

When no one spoke up, I figured everyone was as stunned as I was under the circumstances.

Kenner cleared his throat. “On the other matter, I want to thank Sergeant Warner for locating and recovering, with the divers’ help, that old Charger from its decades’ long burial site in Whitetail Lake. The story is gaining national recognition, as you all know. One of our residents has already posted the whole thing on You Tube. We’re waiting to hear from Doctor Bridey Patrick’s office on their findings, and we should get some word today.

“Suffice it to say, we have way too much going on. But again, the highest priority is Sheriff Twardy. And we need to do our jobs to the best of our abilities. I’m confident we’ll hear from our sheriff before long. So if no one has anything to add, this meeting is over.”

I was thinking, “We just found two people who disappeared over thirty years ago, so how can you be so certain Denny will turn up any time soon?” But, out of respect, I held my tongue.

Kenner waited a few seconds, and when no one spoke, he stood up, patted a few guys on the back, smiled at my mother, then left. When several of the supervisors had given my mother their well wishes, Smoke hustled us out of the building to his car.

“I’ll take the back seat,” I said before Mother could argue that it was her turn.

We were on the road in moments. “I wish Denny had taken his squad car, so it’d be easier for people to spot,” Mother said.

“You could make that argument, depending on where he is and if people are paying attention,” I said.

“His Buick does not exactly stand out in a crowd, to be sure. But the expanded media coverage will be a good thing. That being said, we all need to be prepared for the extra attention we’re going to get,” Smoke said.

My mother turned her head to stare out the side window. Sheriff Twardy lived five miles south of Oak Lea. The back of his property bordered the Swan River. He had a large rambler with spacious rooms. In the summer, his yard looked like a park. It was early in the season, and no one, including the sheriff, had begun mowing their lawns yet. Smoke followed the long concrete driveway to the front of the garage and parked. Mother sat was an extra second before she moved.

Smoke let me out of the back seat then walked to the passenger side of the car. “Kristen, if you’d rather Corky and I go in alone we should be fine. As long as you give us permission and let us in, that is.”

Mother shook her head. “No, I need to go in. Maybe it will give me some sense of where Denny is.” She pulled a ring of keys from her purse and located the one she needed. “I’d rather go in the front door than through the garage.” She keyed in and Smoke and I followed behind.

I had been in the sheriff’s house a few times and admired how tidy he kept it. He had someone clean it twice a month and managed to keep the clutter to a minimum, something I personally found a constant challenge. When Mom sucked in another of her under-stress gasps, Smoke glanced at me and raised his eyebrows. I lifted my shoulder an inch and gave a slight nod, indicating she’d be fine with us there as back up. I was more accustomed to her emotional reactions and idiosyncrasies than he was.

Mom punched in the security code. If someone had entered uninvited, the alarm would have summoned deputies there. The foyer led into the living room which was in the center of the house and featured a fireplace on the opposite wall. There were tall windows on either side of it. A peaked ceiling rose twelve feet high in the middle of the room. One of the things that had delayed my mother’s marriage to Denny was deciding where they would live: Denny’s house, Mother’s house, or another one they built or bought together.

“We’ll do a walk-through and see if anything is out of place, or if there are any hints as to where he went,” Smoke said.

“Mom, officially speaking, Smoke and I can’t open drawers without a search warrant. But if you happen to see something suspicious if you’re looking for something that belongs to you, then we can deal with it,” I added.

My mother raised her eyebrows and said, “Oh. I didn’t realize how that worked.”

“We’re limited to what is in plain view,” Smoke said.

We followed Mother through the rooms of the house. She didn’t think it was respectful to rifle through cupboards and closets and that was fine with us. That is, until we went into the sheriff’s bedroom. The closet door was open and so was the safe that sat on a shelf.

“What in the hell,” Smoke said as we all stared at the contents inside.

“What all does he keep in here, Mother? Do you know?”

“Mostly cash, and some documents like his passport, I guess. I’ve only seen him open it once when he bought a big flat screen TV. He likes to deal in cash as much as possible.”

“Any idea how much he keeps in there?”

“Why, no, not exactly. But it’s thousands, tens of thousands I’m pretty sure.”

“Tens of thousands?” Smoke echoed.

“Really?” I said.

“Mother nodded. “When he got the money out for the television set, he grabbed a stack of one hundred dollar bills and pulled out ten of them. And it didn’t take the stack down by much. I didn’t ask how much he had, and I didn’t want to know the code.”

“Hmm.” Smoke moved his face in close to the safe. “No money in here now.” He turned and scanned the room. “And no sign of a struggle or a forced entry.”

Tears formed in my mother’s eyes. “Do you think someone’s holding Denny somewhere and forced him to give them his codes to the door and safe?”

Smoke looked at her. “I don’t know, Kristen. None of this makes sense. What it looks like is Denny took the money and ran, which certainly does not remotely fit with his normal behavior. He is one of the most predicable men I know. In a good way.”

“Smoke, do you think he left the door of the safe open to give us some sort of clue?” I said.

He lifted a shoulder. “Something to consider, all right. Why don’t you two keep looking around? Corky, check all the doors, windows, see if we missed anything. I’m going to call the chief deputy, then take pictures of this. I’ll see about getting permission to dust for prints.”

My mother gasped again and Smoke’s shoulders drew in, a sign he had tensed up a bit. There was no argument that my mother was not cut out for police work. She wasn’t fragile; she was emotional and expressive and incapable of putting on a poker face.

I put my hand on her the back of her shoulder and gave her a mild push. “Let’s see what we can find, Mom.”

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

2 Comments

Filed under Christine husom

The Secret in Whitetail Lake 10th Installment

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.

After Smoke dropped me off at my car, I climbed in and headed to my Gramps’ house. It wasn’t a minute later that Vince Weber called. “Hey, Sergeant.”

“Hey, Vince. What’s up?”

“Touching base. Quite the day in the drink, huh?”

“Man alive. Good old Whitetail was finally forced to give up her secret.”

“I’m kind of wondering if Warner’s gonna go crazy and do a search on every lake in the county.”

“Could be. At least until it hits home that three hundred lakes is a lot of lakes, and he’s got all of his other duties.”

“That’s the truth.” He paused a moment. “And what’s up with the sheriff vanishing like that?”

My heart speeded up at the reminder. “I can’t imagine. Between you, me, and the lamppost, I don’t know who I’m more worried for, the sheriff or my mother.”

“Yeah, your mother takes things pretty hard, doesn’t she?”

“She does. She’s been at my grandfather’s house today so she didn’t have to be alone. In fact, I’m turning into Gramps’ driveway now to pick her up.”

“I’ll let you go then.”

“See you Vince.”

I gathered every ounce of optimism to display that I could pull out of my body as I walked into Gramps’ house. Gramps was in his usual chair watching a news show, and I heard Mother in the kitchen. I gave Gramps a kiss on the cheek then checked on Mom who had thrown herself into cleaning out Gramps’ refrigerator. She was setting the milk back on a shelf when I said, “I’m back.”

She jumped half a foot and turned around. “Corinne! You know better than to sneak up on me.”

“Sorry. I guess the TV was too loud for you to hear me.”

She threw the dish cloth she was holding onto the counter. “It’s so loud I can’t even hear myself think.” She half-shrugged. “Maybe that’s not such a bad thing when I’m this worried, imagining the worst.”

I put my arms around her for a comforting hug. “I know you’ve been praying, and so have I. You can’t make yourself sick over this.”

“I called John Carl earlier and even he seemed upset.”

“Of course he did.” I took a small step back. “Do you want to go home, or stay here, or maybe stay at my house?”

“Oh dear. Well, I guess I’ll go home. In case Denny calls.”

“You think you’ll be able to sleep?”

“I don’t know, but that would be true wherever I was.”

“I guess so.”

“What about my car?”

“We’ll get it tomorrow. And I best get going or Queenie will wonder where I am.”

Mother put her arm around my waist and steered me into the living room to say goodnight to Gramps.

After Mom was safely in her house, I drove home and rescued my energetic Queenie from her kennel. After she licked my hand and we’d run around the yard for a few minutes, I gave her the command to sit. “Do you want to go for a ride, girl?”

She jumped up and moved her head back and forth telling me she did. “Okay, let’s go.” I opened the door to my GTO and she hopped in the back seat, like she’d been taught. “Good girl. You probably think we’re going to Gramps, but I need to go over to Whitetail Lake for a while.”Queenie gave a single bark.

I drove the short distance, did a quick U-turn, and pulled to a stop on the north side of Whitetail Lake. In the cloak of night, with illumination from a half moon and twinkling star, the houses on the far hill were visible but not well defined. The middle house was dark, indicating that Harry Gimler had likely gone to bed after all.

I was lost in thought, studying the lake when a car pulled up behind me and parked. I turned in my seat instead of relying on my rearview mirror. “Queenie. Guess who’s coming to visit us? Detective Dawes.”

Queenie barked, and when Smoke opened the passenger door she barked some more. “Can I come in?” he said.

“You don’t have to ask.”

“I get the feeling that Queenie is more excited to see me than you are.” He reached in the back and patted Queenie’s head.

“I think that is probably true given the fact that we were together all day, and my doggie hasn’t seen you for a while. No offense.”

Smoke chuckled. “I’ll give you that. So why are you here, are you trying to pull information out of a lake even though it can’t talk?”

“Something like that. I’ve driven by this lake probably thousands of times; so have you. It’s not much of a swimming lake since it has no beach. But there are fishers out now and then. I keep looking up that hill where the car came down. It must have been at a pretty good speed. It had to have gone airborne, or it would have gotten caught up in the weeds at the edge of the lake. What do you think?”

“That’s a sound theory. Speed is a decided factor. The one big question is why they’d be over there. It’s not like we’ve heard about in other cases, where people leave the roadway and end up in a lake or pond or river. The other question is why did no one hear them, or notice the evidence the vehicle tracks had to have left behind.”

I traced the wheel with my finger. “So what made you come here?”

“I just finished up at the office and spotted you when I drove by. And nosy as I am, I thought I’d see what you were up to, although I’d pretty much figured it out.”

“I’m curious about what the ME’s report will say. I don’t suppose there’s any way to tell if they died in the crash, or drowned after they were submerged.”

“The victims could show evidence of head trauma. That’s what I’m hoping happened: they got knocked out so they didn’t know they were drowning.”

A shiver trickled through me. “Which is why I don’t like driving on the ice in the winter, even when should be perfectly safe. There is always that minute chance.” I thought of an embarrassing event from Smoke’s past, and couldn’t resist teasing him. “You know, like if you burn your fish house down. I mean, that must melt the ice around it, huh?” I held my smile to a minimum.

Smoke leaned in close to me and I smelled cinnamon—probably from tea—on his breath. “I wonder how many times that whole fiasco with Wendy is going to come up during this investigation?”

I resisted the temptation to close the small gap between our faces and kiss him, which took some doing. I held onto the hope that someday he would realize we could break through any barriers he thought prevented us from having an intimate relationship. My grandma had told me Smoke and I were intimate, without the fun part.

I rubbed my nose lightly across his. “Old secrets have a way of bubbling to the surface when we least expect them to, my friend. I promise not to bring up the subject with anyone. And if the guys catch wind of it and try to pry it out of me, I’ll send them your way.”

He reached over and squeezed my hand. “Thanks. Yeah, every stupid thing we do in life seems to come back to haunt us. I sure never expected that humiliating, not to mention costly, incident with Wendy to be brought to light through this awful discovery.”

Queenie let out a small bark, followed by a whine.

Smoke gave my hand a final squeeze then turned and scratched Queenie’s head. “You’re reminding me I need to get home and take care of my own mutt. He’s used to my unpredictable schedule, but I know he doesn’t always like it. Goodnight, you two.”

“Goodnight.”

Smoke got out of the car and drove off a minute later. I needed a little more time at the lake, pondering the night’s events from long ago, a few years before I was born. Smoke was troubled by the secret Whitetail Lake had been keeping. So were the victims’ families, of course, and any number of friends, including my mother. But wondering where her fiancé was filled her with far more immediate distress.

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

4 Comments

Filed under Christine husom