Tag Archives: murder

Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces — The Story Continues

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime serial set in the desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing. Seven authors are involved in the current story — Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces.

Residents of Rubicon Ranch are finding body parts scattered all over the desert. Who was the victim and why did someone want him so very dead? Everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch, that is.

Although some of the characters were introduced in Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, a previous collaboration, Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces is a stand-alone novel. A new chapter is posted every Monday.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end!

Chapter 21: Leia Menendez
by Claire Collins

Leia’s heart pounded in her ears. She slid down the kitchen door to the cool tile floor. The sweat soaking her tanktop chilled against her skin in the air conditioning. Maisey’s dark eyes watched from under the safety of the table.

She vacillated between excitement at finally getting what she came for and hyperventilation at finally getting what she came for. She’d slipped into the Sinclair house through the same door the creepy Morris spinoff had exited. She’d found Morris’s stash, and  left a present in exchange for taking what belonged to her.

She took deep breaths, trying to calm herself and cease the uncontrollable shaking of her hands. It didn’t work. She launched herself off the floor to vomit in the trashcan under the sink, the pictures in her hand dropping to the floor as she went.

Her hands started to shake again and she gripped the countertop for support. With a deep breath, she turned from the counter to gather the photos from the floor. Many of them fell face up. Leia found herself looking at the images that she never wanted to see to begin with. Two girls, a younger version of an innocent Leia and the beautiful blonde, her best friend, Jasmine. Jaz. Tears slipped down Leia’s cheeks but she didn’t bother to wipe them off. She found herself on her hands and knees, sliding the pictures into a pile. There was an elbow here, a knee there. A breast. Jaz’s face, her eyes glassy, her face rubbery and unresponsive. Leia’s face the way it was before she began the series of plastic surgeries.

Some of the photos were blessedly face down. The writing on the back of the photos showed their names and ages. Both were lies they told to get the job. She became Ashley Smith, age 19 and Jaz became Brandy Miller, age 20. In reality, they both had all of the worldy charm and thoughts of the 16 year-olds they were. They thought they could break into the world of modeling and acting by responding to an ad. At the audition, they signed papers saying they were over 18 and the agent sent them for a photo shoot for a book cover.

They drove Jaz’s car for an hour to get to the address the agent gave them. The house was little more than a shack but Leia and Jaz didn’t know enough to turn around when they felt nervous about the neighborhood. They were willing to make sacrifices to follow their dreams. Then they met Morris Sinclair and his photographer.

Leia’s skin crawled as she remembered the first time she saw Morris and the way he eyed the girls. She scooped more photos into the pile as her stomach threatened to unload again.

They were each offered a soda and the photographer talked to them. Morris only leered. Within a short time of arriving, the girls relaxed. Leia thought she was becoming comfortable with the men but later, she realized the sodas were drugged.

They started posing for the photos. They were laughing and excited about the photo shoot. More sodas came from somewhere but the taste changed, becoming more bitter than sweet. They forgot all about the sparse furnishings and unease. They forgot almost everything. Leia wishes she could forget everything now.

Before the photo session was over, she and Jaz went from posing for the pictures to being posed. Leia remembered enough to know that she didn’t want to do a lot of it but her body wasn’t under her control. The sex began with her and the photographer. She didn’t know how it started but she recalled being mortified that he was suddenly on her and they were all naked except Morris. She wasn’t sure how it happened. She tried to stop but everything proceeded despite her protests. She wasn’t even sure if her pleas were out loud or only in her head. Another flash of reality involved her and Jaz while the photographer watched. Morris took the pictures most of the time. Leia wasn’t sure who was taking the pictures when Morris forced Jaz to perform a sex act on him. The next real thing Leia remembered was waking up in the house on the stained mattress, a small pile of cash on the floor. Everyone was gone except her and Jaz. She was afraid Jaz was dead because her breathing was so shallow that it was barely perceptible. She just wanted to get out of there. She managed to get Jaz up and out of the house. Leia drove the car back to her house even though she didn’t have a driver’s license. She couldn’t take Jaz home. Her parents would collapse to the floor and call in as many expensive psychiatrists and therapists as they could find. They’d never let Jaz see Leia again.

No one would bat an eye at two stoned girls at Leia’s house. Her mom succumbed to cancer when she was seven and after that, her dad only worked and drank. There was no one else.

She scooped up more pictures. Thank God she got them out of that house before the police began their search. She had scooted out the back door as Moody answered the front door.

A picture of a smiling Jaz. So young and full of life. Leia ran her fingertip over the photo. Jaz couldn’t handle what happened to them. Six months after they were drugged and raped, Jaz committed suicide using the gun Leia’s dad kept under the couch cushion.

Leia ran. She had her mother’s beauty and she used it to support herself. She knew what she had that would make money… and make money she did. She was an excellent actress. The years of plastic surgeries transformed her look enough to make her Tara Windsor’s twin and once she completed cleaning up the Morris mess, she would dispose of Tara Windsor and step right into her shoes.

She slid the last picture over to put it in the pile. It was the head shot she submitted to the agent to get the book cover job. Angry at her young smiling self, she flipped the photo over, the words on the back grabbing her attention. She read them, then dropped the photo and curled into the fetal position on the kitchen floor.

Ashley Smith- 19
Leia Menendez – 16
AKA – Tara Windsor look alike
AKA – Brandy Jasmine – Porn star

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Death On the Church Steps

English: Radford: St Peter

Death On the Church Steps is a novel I just started. Here is a little from the first chapter. Who knows, maybe it will be picked up by Second Wind Publishing.

 I have reduced the chapter to about half for this blog, but in it you will be introduced to all the characters who could be the killer. Or maybe it is someone I haven’t met yet. Who will the killer be?

As a writer I do not have everything outlined well in advance. I just sort of let my imagination run wild and let the story go wherever it will. All of the characters introduced are pastors at the church except Radford who is the church janitor. So, is one of them the killer, or someone not yet introduced? I don’t know. What do you think? Tell me who should be the killer and why.

You can make you suggestions either by comments to this blog, or by email to me at paul@paulsbooks.net

DEATH ON THE CHURCH STEPS
By Paul J. Stam

CHAPTER ONE

She was young, exceptionally beautiful, and except for her sheer lace panties, completely naked, and definitely dead. She lay on the top of the steps that led up to the front of the church. If you stood in just the right place you could see two of her, her real self and her reflection in the large, plate-glass, front doors to the church. Her head was turned to hang over the top step with her long, blond hair cascading down over the next two steps. Her right arm lay stretched out on the second step, and her left arm was thrown back over her head. She looked as though she had been arranged to have a picture taken for an art calendar, or some magazine. It was hard to believe that someone so young and beautiful was dead. But then it was also hard to imagine anyone alive would have been lying naked on the church steps.

Between the church and the office and classroom building, was a large mango tree. It always produced a great abundance of fruit, but the fruit was small, and stringy, and not worth bothering with. Consequently the fruit dropped to the ground staining the sidewalks, attracting flies, and creating a lumpy and slippery hazard for those trying to climb the steps.

Several of the mangoes had bounced and rolled to within a few feet of the dead woman’s left hand. If you had looked down from God’s vantage point it would have looked as though the woman had scattered the fallen fruit with the hand flung back over her head like a sower scattering seed.

Pastor Douglas Bautista discovered her at ten minutes after six when he arrived at the church. A few others, driving by in the morning traffic who glanced that direction at exactly the right moment had seen the body before he did. The glimpse was so fleeting that the only thing they could think of was that someone was playing a practical joke on the church by laying a mannequin on the church steps.

The church custodian, Radford Lee, had also seen the body. He had unlocked the side doors to the church at five-thirty for those who might stop in for prayer on their way to work. After unlocking the side doors he walked through the church to the foyer, and wondered why the foyer lights and the outdoor, front floodlights were not on. He distinctly remembered turning them on the night before. He was about to unlock the front door when looking through the glass doors he saw the woman.

He was startled at first, and stood for a while behind the glass doors, running a hand nervously through his wavy brown hair. He stood just staring at her and wondering what he should do. Under the circumstances he thought it best not to unlock the front door. He thought she was dead, but he wasn’t absolutely sure. He didn’t quite know how to handle a naked woman on the church steps. If she was alive and drunk, he thought it best not to be seen handling her. From where he stood he couldn’t tell for certain if she was breathing or not. Maybe she was protesting something. His logical conclusion was that if she were dead there was nothing he could do for her, and if it was a publicity stunt he didn’t want to get involved.

Radford walked back through the church and left by the side door. He used the back entrance to the classroom building, and walked through to the church offices. He went about emptying the wastebaskets. From time to time he would set down the plastic bag full of waste paper and walk to the window. He would part the blinds a little, and look out at her. Each time he looked out at her he became more certain that she was dead and that became increasingly more frightening. It was very unlikely that anyone would get naked to go and die on church steps of natural causes. He was certain therefore that she had been murdered and that he had made the right decision in not discovering a murder victim.

Although Radford had actually seen the body first, Pastor Bautista would take credit for it. He approached from the parking lot behind the buildings. He walked with a swagger as he made his way through the yard glancing to the left and the right looking for something about which he could get righteously angry. He noted that the leaves and fallen fruit had not been raked up from under the mango tree in the schoolyard. Children attending the pre-school would start arriving in half an hour, and the leaves and fruit were supposed to be cleaned up by then. Radford was supposed to rake up the fallen fruit first thing in the morning and it pleased Bautista that it had not yet been done it. It would give him something about which to scold Radford.

Bautista was just about to start up the mango splattered steps to the office when he looked the other direction and saw the body. He went over to it, and walked completely around it once having to go down a few steps and then up again to get around it. From the way her open eyes stared out at the world he knew she was dead, but still he knelt down and put his fingers on her wrist feeling for a pulse.

He stood up, and swaggered up the steps, and into the office. He found Radford vacuuming the reception area. “Go get me a sheet, Radford.”

“What?” Radford asked turning off the vacuum.

“Get me a sheet.”

“A sheet? What kind of sheet? Do you mean a drop cloth?”

“A sheet, Radford. Any kind of sheet. A sheet to cover the body.”

“What body, Pastor Doug?” Radford said pretending complete ignorance.

Pastor Bautista looked at him for a moment and then said, “There is a body of a dead woman on our front steps. Get me a sheet to cover her.”

“There is? Oh, my goodness! Where did it come from?” he said hoping he had accurately conveyed shock and disbelief. “We don’t have any sheets that I know of.”

“Find something. Go to the baptismal room and get me one of the baptismal robes. One that isn’t assigned to anyone.”

“Yes, Sir,” Radford said leaving and Pastor Bautista sat down in the receptionist chair and dialed 911.

By the time Radford returned with the baptismal robe Pastor Doug had finished explain everything to the police. When they went back out to cover the body the news trucks from three television stations were already there taking pictures of the body. He roughly pushed the cameramen aside as he went over, and very piously laid the baptismal robe over the body. When he was through she was demurely covered with only her head, her feet and her arms exposed to the prying eyes of the cameras.

When he straightened up the cameras were on him, and three reporters held their microphones in front of him. “Did you discover the body,” one of them asked.

“Yes, I think so. At least no one reported it to the police before I did.”

In the distance they could hear the sirens of a police car trying to get through the morning traffic.

“Now I think, Gentlemen, that we should save any more questions you might have until the police get here.”

The reporters kept trying to ask him questions and he kept putting them off. It made him feel important to have them all trying to get a question answered, and it made him feel even more important to not answer their questions.

Three squad cars, with blue lights flashing, arrived almost simultaneously congesting the traffic even more than the TV trucks had. Soon after that there was an ambulance, and then two more police cars till the one-way traffic on the two-lane road in front of the church was reduced to one lane of traffic. The police moved in quickly stringing up yellow ribbons that said, CRIME SCENE – DO NOT CROSS.

A detective started questioning Bautista. “Are you the one that covered the body?” The detective asked.

“Yes.”

“You shouldn’t have done that, you know. That was disturbing the evidence.”

“I couldn’t just leave her there for everyone to see. This is, after all, a church.”

The detective looked at him as if to say, ‘so what?’ and asked. “Did you touch the body at all?”

“Just to take her pulse.”

“Oh? And just where was that: at her wrist, her neck, her stomach? Just where did you touch her?” he asked sneering.

“I resent the implication of that question.”

“Just answer the question.”

“Her wrist.”

“And then what did you do?”

“I went into the office, and told the janitor to go get the robe, and then I called the police.”

Radford told the police that he had not seen the woman until he came out with Pastor Bautista to cover the body. He too did not remember ever having seen her at the church before. He was certain he had turned on the floodlights at the front of the church, and the lights in the foyer the night before. With the lights on it would have been hard for anyone to walk up the steps and not be seen. With them off the area of the steps would have been almost completely dark.

“Could anyone have turned them off after you turned them on?” the detective asked.

“Lots of people have keys. Anyone could have gone in and turned off the lights.”

“Who, for example has keys to the church?”

“Lots of People. All the pastors, all of the schoolteachers, all ministry leaders. They all have keys because they all have to get into the sanctuary. And there might be people who have keys that we don’t know about.”

“How’s that?”

Radford shrugged his shoulders and ran a hand through his wavy brown hair pushing it back from his face. “Someone loans a key out, and forgets who they loaned it to.”

“How many such missing keys do you think there are?”

“I don’t know. A half a dozen or more.”

“Is the sanctuary locked most of the time?”

“No. It’s always opened during the day. People come into pray and there is something scheduled in there almost every day.”

The staff was continuing to arrive. Each, in one way or another learned what had happened, and the detectives informed each that they would all be questioned. Pastor Bell arrived and very graciously, but firmly told the detectives that the staff morning devotions were at eight-thirty and everyone was required to be there. He invited the detectives to join them, but the detectives declined saying that they would be back after nine to talk to the staff. They assured everyone that it was just routine, but since the body had been found on the church steps they had to talk to everyone employed by the church.

“I understand,” Pastor Bell said, and went into his office until it was time for devotions.

Betty Clipper burst into the reception area at 8:25 screaming, “Is it true?… Was there really a dead girl on our steps?… Oh, My God. I can’t believe it… What are we going to do?… Was it anyone we knew?… Oh, Dear Jesus, this is terrible.”

She was a large woman, just over six feet tall, and weighing almost two hundred pounds. She had the title of Music Minister, and was in charge of all the musical groups in the church.

“I can’t believe it. I’m shaking so much I can hardly stand,” she said dropping her bulk into the closest chair.

“The reason you’re shaking, Betty, is because your legs are too spindly to hold up all the weight of your body,” Doug said looking down on her. His dark eyes gleamed with hatred because she was white, a woman, and when standing taller than he was.

She started to cry. “Can’t you see this is a hard enough time for me, Doug, without your picking on me. This thing really has me scared.”

“Oh, stop crying, Betty. You have nothing to be afraid of. No one would want to kill you, or do anything else to you for that matter,” Doug answered.

Pastor Bell walked in just after that and Doug suddenly became seriously pious.

“Betty. Betty. What’s wrong? Nobody’s going to hurt you. We all love you,” Pastor Bell said walking toward her.

Betty stood up, and cried that much louder going over to him like a child that needed to be comforted. He put an arm around her, and let her cry on his shoulder.

“It’s all right, Betty. You go ahead and cry if you want to. This thing has all of us a little upset.”

He comforted her until the sound portion of her crying was on mute, and then sent her back to her chair sniffling, and wiping at her tears with a soggy tissue.

Pastor Bell sat down then, and started the devotion by singing a chorus, and the others joined in. But the singing was not very sincere, and when it came time for the devotional, Don Bjork, who was to do the Scripture reading and bring the devotional message that morning, spoke about how the events of the morning should make them aware of just how uncertain life was, and they should all be living righteously.

The prayers were mostly that the family of the dead girl would know the comfort of the Holy Spirit. None of them knew who the girl was, or who her family was, but it was a safe thing to pray. No one prayed that the police would quickly find the killer of the woman, which surprised Jim Sloan, who although he was a pastor did not really believe in prayer.

By the time devotions were over the police were through with the front steps of the church, and the crowd of spectators separated as the coroner took the body away. The TV cameras tried to focus on the stretcher as it moved from the steps to the coroner’s van. The police started spreading out around the church, looking behind the shrubbery while the detectives went into the church office building to talk to the staff.

Copyright © 2012 by Paul J. Stam
All rights reserved

Visit me at Paul’s Books

Paul’s book The Telephone Killer published by Second Wind Publishing will be out in Oct. 2012.

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The Telephone Killer

“At exactly ten o’clock this morning, if everything goes as I have planned, there will be a sizable explosion in the downtown area resulting in considerable property damage and hopefully significant injury and loss of life.”

No one dies in that explosion, but with that announcement to the television station the killer starts on his killing spree. He is labeled the Telephone Killer by the media because he almost always calls the TV station to tell them who his next victim will be. The clues, though true, are often misleading.

The case is made more complicated because there is no connection or similarities between the victims. He kills an insurance salesman for allegedly cutting in front of him on the freeway. He kills a police officer and a hitchhiker just because they are convenient victims. On those two occasions he calls the TV station immediately after he has done the killing.

When Vince Williams is made the lead investigator, the Killer concentrates on him to try to get Vince to back off in his investigation. It is just before Christmas when the TK calls the TV station and the duty officer calls Vince.

‟Williams here,” he said answering the phone.

‟The television station got another call from the TK, Captain. About three minutes ago.”

It had been two months since the ice-pick murder, and Vince had begun to hope that the Telephone Killer would let the Christmas season pass without an incident. ‟What did he say?”

‟Very short, Captain. Asked to make sure he was being recorded like he always does and then said, ‘Tonight I’m going to get a very important person. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.’”

‟What have you done so far?”

‟Jonesy happened to be here, and he is calling all the rest of the team.”

‟Good. If it hasn’t been done, notify the State Police, the Sheriff’s department, the FBI, the Capital Security office, and Homeland Security. God,” Vince said sounding both desperate and angry, ‟this could mean anybody, judges, state senators and representatives, the Mayor, almost anybody. We can’t give them all protection. Check and see if any of the Washington people are back home for Christmas or something. See if we have any foreign dignitaries in town and be sure to notify the Secret Service. I’ll be there in a few moments.”

Williams is in his office the next day when he learns the important person the killer was referring to was Torri, Vince’s fiancée. He recognized the voice even before he heard his name mentioned. ‟This call is for Detective Captain Vincent Williams. If he is not listening at the present time be sure that he hears this message. I have Ms. Torri Billingsly, Captain. I understand she is a good friend of yours. I told you it would be someone important. How important someone is depends on who you ask, doesn’t it, Captain?

She is in good health and comfortable. Though I brought her to her present location, she has never seen me so would never be able to identify me. Being both blindfolded and unconscious there is no way she could tell you where she is or where she has been.

‟I told you last time I talked to you that it was only by my kindness that you are still alive. Now it is only by my kindness that Ms. Billingsly is alive. How comfortable and healthy she remains depends entirely on you.

The situation is this, Captain. Ms. Billingsly’s comfort and well-being is directly proportional to the comfort and well-being that I feel. For her optimum comfort and well-being you will have to call off your investigation into my activities. If I feel that I am in danger, she will be in danger. I hope that I have made myself very clear.

I may from time to time permit her to talk to you via cell phone or video tape. That way you would at least know that I am keeping my side of the bargain, and that she is alive and well. All I am asking for is peace and safety. I hope we understand each other.”

“The Telephone Killer” is Paul’s latest book and will be released in 2013 by Second Wind Publishing.

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Rubicon Ranch: A Collaborative Novel

I am involved in a wonderful project with several other Second Wind authors. Rubicon Ranch is an ongoing collaborative novel that we are writing online. It is the story of people whose lives have been changed when a little girl’s body was found in the wilderness near the desert community of Rubicon Ranch. Was her death an accident? Or . . . murder! But who would want to kill a child? Everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch, that is.

Each of us writers is responsible for the development of our own characters. My character is Melanie Gray. She has traveled the world with her husband, a world-renowned photographer. Together they authored many coffee-table books (she did the writing, he the photographs). One of the books told about mountains of the world, one about rivers, one about oceans, one about forests, and now they have a contract to do deserts. After they rented a house in Rubicon Ranch to begin their in-depth study of the southwestern deserts, he died in a car accident.

Now, not only does Melanie have to deal with the pain of losing her husband and figuring out what she’s going to do for the rest of her life, she needs to fulfill the publishing contract or she’ll have to reimburse the publishers, which she cannot do because the advance is all but spent. Since she is not a photographer, she roams the desert bordering on Rubicon Ranch, taking hundreds of photos, hoping that a few of them will accidentally end up being as brilliant as her husband’s photos always were. She finds the child’s body and takes photos of the scene after calling 911. At first she is a suspect but once the Sheriff has ruled her out, he requests her help in reading the desert and desert-related clues. Still, the sheriff does not trust her completely, thinking she is hiding something.

Chapter 26: Melanie Gray — by Pat Bertram

Fury, like wildfire flashed through Melanie. Fury at the sheriff for paying his silly games when people were dead, fury at herself for playing his fool.

She’d been flattered that he thought she could help with his investigation, but apparently the only thing he’d been investigating was her and how to get in her panties. And she’d fallen for it. Cripes, what an idiot! All her resolve not to let him get to her had been for nothing.

And that whole seduction scene—”So maybe, when I need you to help me, I won’t have to bully you. You’ll cooperate with me because you understand that getting my job done honestly is the most important thing to me.” Did he believe his own drivel? And anyway, how could she help when he wasn’t doing anything? It had been two days since Riley died. Didn’t they say that if they didn’t catch a killer within the first forty-eight hours that chances are he or she would never be caught? And the sheriff had wasted those precious hours trying to seduce her.

She’d fallen for Alexander’s crap and apparently she hadn’t learned anything, because here she was again, playing straight-woman for another unprincipled clown. Alexander, at least, had offered her adventure and marriage, and for a while he had even been faithful. But Seth? What did he have to offer? Nothing. He was married, and he was a taker. He’d take everything she had, which wasn’t much, just her integrity, and she’d be damned before she let him tarnish that with a tawdry affair. She’d seen the look in his eyes when he’d said “And I know you’d rather claw out my eyes and slash my throat than let me touch you.” And that look had belied his words. He seemed to think all he had to do was pretend to know her and she’d fall into his oh, so understanding arms.

“What?” he said, sounding as if he didn’t know exactly what was going through her mind. How could he not? He, Sheriff Seth Bryan, the great detective.

“As if you don’t know.” Melanie spit the words from between clenched teeth.

Seth’s brows drew together in an almost believable though comic look of confusion. “That’s such a typical womanish remark. I thought you were different.”

“You thought I was gullible and naïve. You thought since I put up with Alexander’s philandering, I’d put up with yours, too, but that is not going to happen. Only a fool gets involved with a married man, and whatever you think, I am no fool.”

Seth held up his hands, palms toward her. “Whoa.”

“Being a widow does not make me ripe for the plucking. I don’t need to be serviced like a bitch in heat. Believe me, the last thing I need in my life is a man, especially a married man. Calling it separate maintenance does not make you any less married.”

He flashed his teeth. “So you do like me. You’re protesting too much.”

“Not protesting enough, apparently, or else you wouldn’t have that silly grin on your face.”

He lost the grin. “What’s going on here? I thought we were having a nice meal while we went over the case.”

“You should be going over the case with your deputies. They, at least, seem to understand how inappropriate it is for you to include me in your investigation. Unless I’m still a suspect and you’re trying to get me to let down my guard and confess?”

“I told you, you were never a suspect.”

“As if playing with me, gigging me as you called it, is any better. So let’s discuss the case. What were the results of the autopsy? Was Riley murdered or was it an accident? If she was murdered, how was it done and who did it? Were there drugs in her system? Have you interrogated her parents yet to find out what they’re hiding? Have you found out who the dead man is and what, if anything, he has to do with Riley’s murder? You pretty much ignored me when I said he looked liked Riley, but then, that’s understandable. I never got a good look at the girl. All I saw was her jaw line, her nose, and her eyebrows, so whatever I blurted out after seeing the man’s corpse has to be discounted. Did the same person kill both of them? Or were there two different killers? Or . . .” Melanie paused to grab the thought that flitted through her mind. “Did he kill Riley and someone else kill him?”

Seth picked up his sandwich, dipped an end in the au jus, bit off a piece, and chewed slowly.

Melanie nodded. “That’s what I thought. You’re all talk.” She deepened her voice and mimicked him. “‘We have to solve these murders.’ Yeah, like there really is a we. Well, there was a we, but that was Alexander and me. You and I will never be a we.” A cough shuddered through her torso. She took a long drink of water, hoping she wasn’t coming down with a cold but was merely dehydrated from the strong air-conditioning and her rare monologue.

Seth gave her a searching look, opened his mouth and then closed it again with what sounded like a resigned sigh. She wondered what he’d been going to say and why he thought better of it, then she let out a sigh of her own. It didn’t matter. She had enough to do with grieving and fulfilling her book contract. She had nothing left for the sheriff and his investigation. Whatever he might think, she really didn’t know anything. Well, that wasn’t strictly true. She did know one thing.

She threw her napkin on the table and stood, ready to flee.

Seth gaped at her. “What’s going on?”

“I’m going home, Sheriff Seth Bryan. I’m through with your games. You lied about investigating Alexander’s accident. I saw the photos in the newspaper and I visited the scene of the accident. There was nothing there to indicate that the crash had been anything other than an accident. Perhaps someone had tampered with the car, but the only way to find that out was to investigate the vehicle itself. And you didn’t care enough to check it out.”

***

An additional chapter of the book will be posted every Monday. Please join in the adventure — it should be fun! We don’t even know whodunit and won’t know until the end. You can find the earlier chapters here: Rubicon Ranch

Pat Bertram is the author of Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. All Bertram’s books are available both in print and in ebook format. You can get them online at Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords.  At Smashwords, the books are available in all ebook formats including palm reading devices, and you can download the first 20-30% free!

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Excerpt From “Deadly Traffic” by Mickey Hoffman

Girls are disappearing from Standard High while the local sex trade flourishes. Their absences are barely noticed in the worst school in Arbor City, CA, where turnover and truancy are facts of life. Kendra Desola, the only faculty member likely to care, is on a leave of absence.

After a student’s lifeless body turns up in a seedy part of town, an immigrant community leader contacts Kendra. What does she know about her missing students’ activities, their families’ illegal status?

Searching for the missing girls, Kendra enters a dark world where passports and flesh are currency. When a second murder puts her in the police spotlight, she is unaware a trap is about to close around her.

Excerpt:

She glanced at the sheet of goldenrod paper, expecting to see an advertisement, but the headline brought her to a full stop. And when she saw the two headshots, the cheerful clamor around her receded as if this piece of paper had carved out a dark and lonely space of its own. After skimming the Spanish text, she turned to the English section to make sure she fully comprehended. Under the words, REWARD FOR INFORMATION, the text read:

The Arbor City Mayor’s office has authorized a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person(s) responsible for the death of Imelda Perez.

On Monday, October 4, at 2:00 a.m., the nude body of the victim, aged 16, was discovered near the corner of Southbridge and 8th Street. The Medical Examiner has ruled this death a homicide.

Also, approximately 2 hours later, the body of a second victim, an unidentified white female approximately 20 years of age, was found at the side of the Interstate near the 18th Street on-ramp. These incidents may be related.

Anyone with information regarding this crime, or who saw either victim earlier in the day is urged to contact one of the following:

Arbor City Police Department:  555-2677  (555-COPS)
Citizens’ Crime Alert Line: 555-8477  (555-TIPS)
Bridges Multicultural Teen Center:  555-4357  (555-HELP)

All information will be held in confidence.

Kendra rushed to catch up to the Bridges man. “Excuse me, I might have some information about Imelda.”

The man ran his eyes over her. An eyebrow went up. Was he questioning what a Caucasian, middle-class looking young female in her twenties could possibly know about the life of someone like Imelda? At another time, Kendra might have challenged his narrow perspective, but this wasn’t about her.

The man asked, “Do you have any knowledge of her activities on October 3rd or 4th?”

“This girl—she went to Standard High, is that right?”

“Yes.”

Imelda dead! The immediacy of the death hit her like a punch to the gut. And the second girl’s photo rang a bell; was she also enrolled last spring in the Special Ed. program? If so, like Imelda, she’d been truant more often than not.

The man sensed her distress and asked, “Are you all right, Miss?”

Kendra nodded as she straightened. “I just—I knew her.”

“You a friend?”

“I’m a teacher. My name’s Kendra Desola. She was in my Vocational Skills class. How—”

“Someone strangled her, then dumped her on the street like a piece of trash. If you know who she hung out with, that might help us find who did this to her.”

***

mickeypic_1_-124x149Mickey Hoffman was born in Chicago, and attended public schools where she acquired the strong suspicion that some of her teachers might be human. She wasn’t able to prove this fanciful thinking until much later, when she became a high school teacher herself.

Before landing in the halls of academia, she worked in a variety of jobs, including computer typesetting and wholesale frozen fish sales.

The author is also a printmaker and painter and resides on the West Coast with her long suffering mate, eight marine aquariums and a very large cat. Mickey is also the author of School of Lies, the first Kendra Desola mystery.

Click here to read the first chapter of: Deadly Traffic

Click here to read an interview with: Mickey Hoffman, author of Deadly Traffic

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Deadly Traffic — The Puzzle

Click on the cover for a lot of fun.

Opening the book to read it gives you even more fun!

Girls are disappearing from Standard High while the local sex trade flourishes. Their absences are barely noticed in the worst school in Arbor City, CA, where turnover and truancy are facts of life. Kendra Desola, the only faculty member likely to care, is on a leave of absence.

After a student’s lifeless body turns up in a seedy part of town, an immigrant community leader contacts Kendra. What does she know about her missing students’ activities, their families’ illegal status?

Searching for the missing girls, Kendra enters a dark world where passports and flesh are currency. When a second murder puts her in the police spotlight, she is unaware a trap is about to close around her.

Click here to read the first chapter of: Deadly Traffic

Click here to read an interview with: Mickey Hoffman, author of Deadly Traffic

Click here to read an excerpt from: Deadly Traffic

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Interview with Mickey Hoffman, Author of “Deadly Traffic”

Deadly Traffic: Girls are disappearing from Standard High while the local sex trade flourishes. Their absences are barely noticed in the worst school in Arbor City, CA, where turnover and truancy are facts of life. Kendra Desola, the only faculty member likely to care, is on a leave of absence.

After a student’s lifeless body turns up in a seedy part of town, an immigrant community leader contacts Kendra. What does she know about her missing students’ activities, their families’ illegal status?

Searching for the missing girls, Kendra enters a dark world where passports and flesh are currency. When a second murder puts her in the police spotlight, she is unaware a trap is about to close around her.

Welcome, Mickey. Congratulations on your new book! What is Deadly Traffic really about?

Deadly Traffic deals with the issue of immigration fraud from both sides: those who profit from bringing them in and the illegals themselves. The book is a different take on the subject, seen from the eyes of a high school teacher with students from immigrant families caught up in the illegal trade.

What inspired you to write Deadly Traffic?

I was inspired to write the book after reading some nonfiction books about contemporary domestic slavery and human trafficking.

Tell us a little about your main characters.

Kendra Desola is a high school teacher with a compulsive personality and too much curiosity. She also thinks she can and should help every one of her students after they get into trouble. In this book I introduce Win Ni, a young man with more charm than is good for him. He’s smart but his morals aren’t quite as strong as his desire to become rich.

Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

I don’t have any particular writing techniques. I do outline but it isn’t a fixed list. It’s more like one of those puzzle games in a frame where you can slide the pieces around until the entire picture emerges.

Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?

The message in Deadly Traffic is that on hot button issues like immigration, we all like to think we have a strong grip on right and wrong, but when it’s down to working reality, things are often not as easy to decide.

How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

What colors my writing is my long stint as a public high school teacher. Deadly Traffic, and School of Lies before it, include many scenes from real life with important aspects changed to protect the guilty and for the convenience of the novelist.

What do you like to read?

I read several genres. My personal taste in crime fiction runs to traditional mysteries. I usually stay clear of books with serial killers and a lot of gore. I love books by British novelists like Elizabeth George, Reginald Hill and historical novelists like Sansom and Franklin. When I read books by European authors I have to use the dictionary—not because they’re writing “British” but because their vocabulary is expansive. I also read a lot of fantasy and science fiction. In nonfiction I like to read about history, explorations and inventions but will read politics and current events books as well.

Where can people learn more about your books?

I have a website, www.mickeyhoffman.com where you can read excerpts from my two novels. There’s a link to my blog from there.

***

mickeypic_1_-124x149Mickey Hoffman was born in Chicago, and attended public schools where she acquired the strong suspicion that some of her teachers might be human. She wasn’t able to prove this fanciful thinking until much later, when she became a high school teacher herself.

Before landing in the halls of academia, she worked in a variety of jobs, including computer typesetting and wholesale frozen fish sales.

The author is also a printmaker and painter and resides on the West Coast with her long suffering mate, eight marine aquariums and a very large cat. Mickey is also the author of School of Lies, the first Kendra Desola mystery.

Click here to read the first chapter of: Deadly Traffic

Click here to read an excerpt from: Deadly Traffic

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Excerpt from “Deadly Traffic” by Mickey Hoffman

Girls are disappearing from Standard High while the local sex trade flourishes. Their absences are barely noticed in the worst school in Arbor City, CA, where turnover and truancy are facts of life. Kendra Desola, the only faculty member likely to care, is on a leave of absence.

After a student’s lifeless body turns up in a seedy part of town, an immigrant community leader contacts Kendra. What does she know about her missing students’ activities, their families’ illegal status?

Searching for the missing girls, Kendra enters a dark world where passports and flesh are currency. When a second murder puts her in the police spotlight, she is unaware a trap is about to close around her.

Excerpt:

Sandi found Win leaning on the bar counter, waiting for her when she came out of the Ladies’ room. A greenish glow from the wine bottles above the bar accented the planes of his handsome face. The young bartender smiled as she returned his change. A hostess led a party of three toward a table along the wall. He frowned at the receipt in his hand and stored it in his wallet. She couldn’t see him turning it in to his boss; since when did petty criminals ask for meal allowances? More likely, it would be kept to demonstrate how well he treated her, right after he told her she didn’t deserve dinner at such an expensive restaurant.

He plucked a toothpick from a shot glass near the cash register and used it like a wand to direct her toward the door. Sandi winced as a punishing blast of hot air struck her face, giving a longing look back at the cool interior of the restaurant. Win slid a stiffened palm to the small of her back to make sure they stayed hip to hip as he chose a pace that suited his long legs.

As they walked, Sandi kept her eyes fixed straight ahead, on a distant point that existed only in her mind, so she could pretend not to see the shock on people’s faces when their eyes landed on her, the ungainly girl at his side. He, as usual, basked in the attention he drew from passersby. Impervious to the heat, he wore all black, chosen, she knew, to complement his hair and highlight the three diamond studs that sparkled in his left ear. A manicurist, outside for a smoke, paused mid-puff and stared in admiration, as if Sandi’s companion had stepped straight off the glossy cover of one of the People magazines in her salon. Sandi wished she could hold that fantasy cover in her hands and shred him to bits, starting with his complacent smile. Why didn’t anyone ever see him for what he really was?

***

mickeypic_1_-124x149Mickey Hoffman was born in Chicago, and attended public schools where she acquired the strong suspicion that some of her teachers might be human. She wasn’t able to prove this fanciful thinking until much later, when she became a high school teacher herself.

Before landing in the halls of academia, she worked in a variety of jobs, including computer typesetting and wholesale frozen fish sales.

The author is also a printmaker and painter and resides on the West Coast with her long suffering mate, eight marine aquariums and a very large cat. Mickey is also the author of School of Lies, the first Kendra Desola mystery.

Click here to read the first chapter of: Deadly Traffic

Click here to read an interview with: Mickey Hoffman, author of Deadly Traffic

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Rubicon Ranch: A Collaborative Novel

I am involved in a wonderful project with eight other authors from Second Wind Publishing — writing a novel online.  We take turns writing chapters, and each of us writes from the point of view of a character we created. The story begins with a little girl’s body being found in the wilderness near the desert community of Rubicon Ranch. Was it an accident? Or . . . murder! But who would want to kill a child? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end! Here is an excerpt from one of my chapters to entice you to come join the fun. You can find what we have written so far by clicking here: Rubicon Ranch.

“Look I know you’re dressed for the desert and everything,” Bryan said, “but I hope you won’t be offended if I ask you to sit in the unit here for a minute or two and enjoy the air conditioning while I talk to my deputies.”

He could tell she was thinking over his request carefully, that Melanie didn’t quite trust him. She also didn’t act like someone who had just killed a child and was trying to cover it up, although—he judged—she might be clever enough to do just that.

“Well if I have to wait,” she said, “I guess I’m better off in here than out in hundred degree weather.”

Bryan opened the driver’s door. “One hundred and three degrees,” he corrected.

Frio and Midget were standing within a few feet of the discarded TV, as if to make sure the child inside did not get out and skip away. Midget paid less attention to the crime scene than the scrub brush and mounds of rock and dirt around him.

“Do we know who this was?” the sheriff asked as he joined them.

“No,” Frio said. “If she’s from this housing development, it won’t be hard to find out. Not too many girls her age up here.”

“They don’t know she’s gone,” Midget offered in his falsetto. “Otherwise they would have reported her missing before Flower Child over there found her.”

“Yeah, unless they killed her.” He glanced back to his Navigator. Melanie was staring at them. “So this Melanie Gray. More to her than meets the eye, you think?”

“Obviously,” Frio replied. “With all those clothes she wears, almost nothing meets the eye.”

“Yeah.” He turned back toward the TV. “I would totally discount her as being involved in any way, except for one thing. From the very first, she talked about this as if it’s a murder.”

Midget looked down at him. “You think it’s not a murder?”

He shrugged. “What is she—eight, nine-years-old? She sneaks out at night after bedtime and loses her way. No one notices she’s gone. She gets lost. She gets dehydrated. She finds the TV console and decides to sit it in for shelter. Maybe she dies of exposure. Or maybe one of those green rattlers around here bit her. Since no one could hear her crying for help, she crawled in the TV and the venom got her.” He looked up at Midget, who was gazing around them. “You don’t like snakes, do you?”

“Do you?”

He chuckled. “So let’s proceed as if this is a wrongful death investigation. What do we need to do, Frio?”

She sighed. “Well, I’ve already called for the coroner and the bus. Midget and I will cordon off this area with tape and protect the scene as much as possible. We need to figure out who the little girl is and notify her parents.”

“What if they’re dead too?” Midget asked.

***

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People, available from Second Wind Publishing.

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The Second Chapter of Rubicon Ranch Has Been Posted!

You can find the second chapter of Rubicon Ranch, the Second Wind collaborative novel here:  “Chapter Two: Seth Bryan — by Lazarus Barnhill.” Next week we will be posting a chapter by JB Kohl and Eric Beetner, authors of the wonderful noir novel One Too Many Blows to the Head. We hope you will join us in our adventure!

Here’s a taste of Chapter Two:

“Look I know you’re dressed for the desert and everything,” Bryan said, “but I hope you won’t be offended if I ask you to sit in the unit here for a minute or two and enjoy the air conditioning while I talk to my deputies.”

He could tell she was thinking over his request carefully, that Melanie didn’t quite trust him. She also didn’t act like someone who had just killed a child and was trying to cover it up, although—he judged—she might be clever enough to do just that.

“Well if I have to wait,” she said, “I guess I’m better off in here than out in hundred degree weather.”

Bryan opened the driver’s door. “One hundred and three degrees,” he corrected.

Frio and Midget were standing within a few feet of the discarded TV, as if to make sure the child inside did not get out and skip away. Midget paid less attention to the crime scene than the scrub brush and mounds of rock and dirt around him.

“Do we know who this was?” the sheriff asked as he joined them.

“No,” Frio said. “If she’s from this housing development, it won’t be hard to find out. Not too many girls her age up here.”

“They don’t know she’s gone,” Midget offered in his falsetto. “Otherwise they would have reported her missing before Flower Child over there found her.”

“Yeah, unless they killed her.” He glanced back to his Navigator. Melanie was staring at them. “So this Melanie Gray. More to her than meets the eye, you think?”

“Obviously,” Frio replied. “With all those clothes she wears, almost nothing meets the eye.”

“Yeah.” He turned back toward the TV. “I would totally discount her as being involved in any way, except for one thing. From the very first, she talked about this as if it’s a murder.”

Midget looked down at him. “You think it’s not a murder?”

He shrugged. “What is she—eight, nine-years-old? She sneaks out at night after bedtime and loses her way. No one notices she’s gone. She gets lost. She gets dehydrated. She finds the TV console and decides to sit it in for shelter. Maybe she dies of exposure. Or maybe one of those green rattlers around here bit her. Since no one could hear her crying for help, she crawled in the TV and the venom got her.” He looked up at Midget, who was gazing around them. “You don’t like snakes, do you?”

Click here to read the whole chapter: Chapter Two: Seth Bryan — by Lazarus Barnhill

If you haven’t yet read the first chapter of this novel experience you can find it here: “Chapter One: Melanie Gray —  by Pat Bertram“.

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