If you are local, please join us for this fabulous event in downtown Staunton tomorrow evening.
If you are local, please join us for this fabulous event in downtown Staunton tomorrow evening.
I’m back from Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Md., and from the Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, Pa.. If someone asked me to choose between the events, I’m sure I couldn’t. They are very different from one another, but both are wonderful for writers and readers alike. Both are well-organized and staffed by helpful, friendly sort who love to chat with writers.
Scrapbook of Secrets didn’t win the Agatha for best first novel. I know everybody says this—and so it appears a little cliche and maybe fake—but truly, I was honored to be on that very short list of authors.
Here they are— with apologies to the photographer for no credit. This picture was going around on Facebook and I could not figure out who the original belonged to.
In fact, I was just thrilled to be in the same space as Louise Penny, Laura Lippman, and so many other writers whose work I’ve admired through the years. Besides the writers, the readers make the event really magical for me. Imagine someone knowing your characters and your plot and coming up to you and saying “I think Beatrice should do so and so.” I mean, really? You can’t ask for more than that as a writer.
At Malice, I participated in the famous “Malice-Go-Round.” Authors go from table to table and pitch our books to readers. We are timed and have to keep it within 2 minutes. I had a fabulous partner in Linda O. Johnston, who was also my roomie at the hotel. They say to think of this event as “speed dating for writers” and it is really like that.
Here we all are (once again, I have no idea who this photo really belongs to) :
The Festival of Mystery is Pittsburgh is a bit like that , too. It’s organized and hosted by the fabulous Mystery Lover’s Book Store in Oakmont, Pa. Readers are already lined up to get in to the festival when we arrive. Here’s some shots of the crowd waiting outside the building:
And when they enter, they are eager to chat with writers—and to buy our books. The other part of the festival is that the authors are interviewed on a stage where they, of course, get to talk about their books.
Here’s a shot of the audience:
By that time, I was a bit pooped, I must admit, and forgot half of what I wanted to say. But I think I did well—because I signed some books and talked with readers after that.
Connecting with readers is really what events like this are all about. Next on my schedule is a reading with two other mystery authors in Staunton, Va., a neighboring town. Hope to meet more readers there. And after that, New York!
Just wanted to catch you up on a few things.
A few days ago, I was interviewed by WVTF’s Sandy Hausman about my books. Here is a link to that interview.
This weekend, I’ll be attending the Virginia Festival of the Book. I’ll be on a panel with other mystery authors. “Who Knew this Job Could Be So Dangerous?”
The festival is a great opportunity for readers to learn more about and meet their favorite authors. For more about the festival, click here.
I hope to see some of you there. It’s a fantastic event.
1. So glad I don’t have to run outside. It’s brutal.
2. The cold depresses me. All I want to do is snuggle up with a blanket somewhere and drink hot chocolate.
3. But I’ve got deadlines. And children. That’s right. The children.
4. So I’m obsessing a wee bit about this digital book discussion. I hope to see you there.
5. Scrapped. Yes, I am obsessed and need to move on. But one more week of book launch month and I will need to move on!
Last year, I was totally blown away by the gratitude I felt by so many readers contacting and telling me they loved my book. In fact I wrote a post “Love Note to Readers” about how honored I felt. And I still do.
So I knew I wanted to do a special giveaway with the publication of SCRAPPED. Something I felt my readers would truly appreciate. After giving it a great deal of thought, I made what I’m calling a “Journey” book. The idea is that it’s an empty, already (somewhat) embellished, prepared scrapbook or journal. In other words, it’s book full of templates.
You can put your own photos and writing on the pages I’ve already prepared or use some of the many blank pages I left in the book for your own creative expression. One of the pages has a pocket that’s full of embellishments to help you create your own pages, if that’s what you choose.
The book also lifts quotes from SCRAPPED and uses some of the visuals from the book, like Tarot cards and moons and so on.
In order to win the book, just follow this link to Kensington’s Facebook page. You’ll have to hit the LIKE button. Fill out the form and, voila, you are entered.
As for me, I enjoyed crafting the book and hope that whomever wins it will love it as much as I do. In the mean time, keep reading, my friends.
You’d think that Cookie Crandall, a vegan witch who teaches Yoga, and 81-year-old Beatrice Matthews would not have much in common. But they have become good friends. Beatrice writes about Cookie today on Dru’s Book Musings. Check it out, leave a comment, and win a signed copy of SCRAPPED.
As a reminder, tonight’s event has been cancelled. We will reschedule soon.
At the end of the month the second book in my Cumberland Creek Mystery Series will be published. SCRAPPED takes place a full year after SCRAPBOOK OF SECRETS. I think a lot of series are spaced closer together and maybe the others in my series will be. But in the mean time, I went back and looked at some of my old posts where I introduced you to my characters and thought it would be fun for you to revisit before the next book comes out. And who knows…maybe some new reader will happen on this post and decide to pick up both books. Next post: The men of Cumberland Creek. Stay tuned for more on Cookie Crandall, my new character.
Intro to my characters
My Cumberland Creek Mystery series revolves around a group of women in a small but growing Southern town. They get together to scrapbook, eat, and as it happens, to solve murders.
The story is told from three main characters points of view. They are surrounded by a secondary group of women and men. There’s also a third tier of characters I like to call my “walk-ons.” I thought I’d introduce you to the main three characters and next week I’ll tell you more about the secondary characters. The third group of characters shifts from book to book.
Annie Chamovitz is 36-years-old and has “retired” from the rough and tumble world of Washington, D.C., investigative journalism. She and her husband Mike moved to Cumberland Creek from Bethesda, Md., a posh suburbanish city. Her family is the only Jewish family in town. When the book opens, she is a stay-at-home mom to Sam and Ben. After being in Cumberland Creek about a year, she is finally invited to a weekly scrapbooking crop. She goes to the scrapbook gathering—reluctantly. Visions of frilly stickers and glitter paper dissuade her. Soon, she is part of the group, finding she loves the “puzzle” aspect to scrapbooking. Soon enough, she also gets sucked back into freelance journalism.
A narrative bit about Annie:
The first time Annie was asked the most popular question new residents were asked, which was “What church do you attend?” she grimaced. She felt violated. She was used to moving in an urban community in which such questions were not asked.
My favorite quote from Annie:
“I don’t need my husband’s permission, Detective, just his support. This is the twenty-first century,” she said.
Vera Matthews has just turned forty. She is the owner of the only dancing school in town. She has never quite resolved her longing for the stage. So, among other things, she delights in changing hair color and make-up palettes. She is married to her college sweetheart, Bill Ledford. She grew up in Cumberland Creek, went to college in New York City, and danced professionally for a brief period of time. Because she’s childless, she makes scrapbooks for her students and herself.
A narrative bit about Vera:
It wasn’t as if she kept secrets from her dearest friends. Some things were too private to talk about at a crop. After all, crops were primarily for scrapbooking. Oh yes, there was the social aspect that one couldn’t deny. But nothing deep or heavy should be broached.
My favorite quote from Vera:
“I may be a bitch, but I work too hard for my money to go and have some pop psychologist to charge me to tell me about the psychological aspect to a hobby. For godsakes. Some people just sap all the fun out of everything,” Vera said, taking a bite of the cake.
Beatrice Matthews is Vera’s eighty-year-old mother and is not a scrapbooker. She is a quantum physicist and has conversations with her dead husband, who appears in ghost form throughout the book—but only to her. She grew up on Jenkins Mountain, one of the many mountains surrounding the town of Cumberland Creek. At the beginning of the book, Bea is stabbed.
A narrative bit about Bea: Now this knife in the neck business concerned her. Who would do such a thing? And what would have happened if it had not been lodged just exactly where it was? She could have died—or worse, been paralyzed, at the mercy of the likes of Vera and Sheila, two mid-life fools if ever there were.
My favorite Beatrice quote: “Your Daddy bought it for me and taught me how to use it. I feel safe with it here next to me in my nightstand. So over my dead body will I get rid of it. In fact, you can bury me with my gun in one hand and Leaves of Grass in the other,” Beatrice said.
The Second Tier of Characters
Three other regular croppers meet every Saturday night—DeeAnn. Paige, and Sheila, who is the scrapbook consultant in the group.
Since my last post was a bit long, I thought I’d keep it short this time and tell you a bit about DeeAnn.
DeeAnn has been in Cumberland Creek for twenty-five years—and she’s still considered a newbie. She married a local man—her college sweetheart—who is the high school principal. She’s got two daughters, both in college. Fair skinned and freckled, she’s a large, muscular woman—with a baker’s arms and heart. There’s nothing she likes better than feeding people. She brings the most delicious snacks to crops. Her bakery is the only one in town. There are others on the outskirts of Cumberland Creek. As a baker, her focus has always been on bread, cake, and cookies. (Pamela’s Pie Palace has the pie market cornered.) In the first book, DeeAnn hires an intern who has a way with muffins.
A quote from DeeAnn:
“Classical tonight ladies?” Sheila asked.
“Hell no,” DeeAnn said, getting up to head for her bag, pulling out a CD. “Let’s hear some Stones.”
Paige Swanson grew up just outside of Cumberland Creek proper—sort of between Jenkins Mountain and the town. She grew up in the modern Mennonite church, which means that to look at her, you’d never know she was a Mennonite. In fact, you might think “aging hippy” when you first see Paige, even though that is not what she is at all. She is fond of tie-dye shirts and dangly earrings. In fact, when Annie first meets Paige she thinks her name doesn’t suit her at all. “She looks more like a Willow or Moonbeam.”
Paige is the high school history teacher. She’s the mother of one son—Randy, who is a chef living in Washington, DC, with his partner. She has not spoken to him in years. This issue is a dark cloud hanging over her that bursts from time to time. His homosexuality goes against everything she believes in—or so she thinks.
Like all Cumberland Creek Croppers, Paige is a pretty good cook, but she loves to make cakes and cupcakes. Her specialty is red velvet.
Sheila is one of the most interesting characters in the book—she is the scrapbook consultant who refuses to allow her children into basement, where she holds her weekly scrapbooking crops. She is also an avid runner, rarely missing a day.
Sheila and Vera grew up together—their mothers were best friends. Sheila’s mom passed away years ago from breast cancer—and so this is an issue that is near and dear to Sheila’s heart. She runs in a lot of breast cancer awareness marathons and so on.
Sheila’s scrapbook room, house, and scrapbooks are immaculate—but Sheila herself rarely is. She wears wrinkled mismatched clothes at times and hardly bothers brushing her hair—or wearing lipstick.
She and Beatrice pick on each other incessantly—but underneath, Beatrice and Sheila care for one another. One of the ways Sheila endears herself to Bea is by making sure she’s well-stocked in pie.
This is the last free chapter of SCRAPPED I can offer you. If you didn’t see the first two, scroll around on the blog and you will see them. They are also printed all together in the back of the first book, SCRAPBOOK OF SECRETS. SCRAPPED will be published December 31 and I am counting the days. You can pre-order on Amazon. If you hit the like button, I’d surely appreciate it. Enjoy!
Vera’s back twisted in pain as she placed a sleeping Elizabeth into her crib. After all the years of dancing, who would have thought parenting would be the most physically taxing thing on her body?
“She’s down for the time being,” she said to her mother, who was sitting next to the fireplace, wrapped in a quilt.
“Go and have a good time,” Beatrice said. “This fire is so nice. Think I’ll stay right here. Be careful, Vera. It’s not safe out there.”
It had been almost a week since the mysterious body washed up in their park, with nobody claiming it. How sad to think that nobody missed this woman enough to report her absence—or to claim her body.
But still, Beatrice was acting a little more concerned about her safety than usual. Vera wondered if Beatrice would ever be the same. After she returned from her vacation in Paris, a general malaise hung over her, and no matter what Vera said or did, it was clear Beatrice didn’t want to talk about this trip, which she and her long-gone husband had dreamed about taking for years. Vera had thought she would return home with countless stories about the city, its food, and its people, but she didn’t. Instead, she’d shared a few photos and thoughts, said she was glad she went, but that was it. Vera mused over this as she opened the door to Sheila’s basement scrapbooking room.
“How’s Lizzie?” Sheila said after Vera sat down at the table and cracked open her satchel of scrapbooking stuff. She was still working on chronicling Elizabeth’s first birthday party.
“Rotten, but asleep for now,” Vera said, feeling a wave of weariness, reaching into her bag for chocolates. She had found a new chocolate shop in Charlottesville the other day and was smitten with the handmade dark chocolate spiced with chili pepper. Who would have imagined? She sat the box on the table. “Chocolates,” she said.
“Have some pumpkin cranberry muffins,” DeeAnn said, shoving the plate toward Vera.
“Thanks,” Vera said.
“God, these are so good,” Annie said, taking another bite of muffin.
“Thanks. We’re selling a lot of them at the bakery,” DeeAnn said and sliced a picture with her photo cropper. “Business hasn’t slowed down a bit for us, thank God.” She made the sign of the cross across her ample chest, even though she wasn’t Catholic. She was the town baker, and her place was always busy, particularly in the mornings.
“Wish I could say the same thing,” Sheila said, pushing her glasses back up on her nose. “Digital scrapbooking is all the rage. I’m losing business with it being so paper based.”
“My business is going through a rough patch, too,” Vera said. “This darned economy.” After a few minutes of silence, Vera brought up the subject of the mysterious body. “You know, I just can’t get the dead woman out of my mind,” she said. “Any word yet on who she is?”
“Not that I know of,” Annie said. “I’ve called the police a few times. Bryant’s supposed to let me know.”
“I wouldn’t trust that,” Sheila said, placing her scissors on the table with a rattle and a clunk.
“Don’t worry,” Annie said. “I have his number. I’m already researching these symbols carved into her body.”
“Symbols?” Cookie asked.
“A first I thought it was Hebrew, but it’s not.”
“Ooh,” DeeAnn said. “That just gave me the chills.” Her blue eyes widened, and she leaned on her large baker’s arms. “I’m thinking Satanists . . . or witches. . . . Sorry, Cookie.”
“Witches don’t do that kind of stuff,” Cookie said. “We are gentle, earth loving, people loving. I’ve told you that.” She grinned.
“I would assume you are not all the same, though,” Annie said. “That there are bad witches, just like there are bad Jews or Christians.”
“Well . . .” Cookie shifted around in her chair as it creaked. “You’re probably right about that.” She turned and asked Sheila, “Now, how do I use this netting?”
Sheila happily showed Cookie the technique. She unrolled the netting from the packaging ball. One side of it was sticky. She placed it on the page at a diagonal and pressed down, then cut it with her scissors, giving it a rough edge, which added to the textured page.
“I honestly still don’t know why you call yourself a witch,” Vera said.
“Oh, Vera, would you just please leave it alone?” Sheila said. “Good Lord. We are having a crop here, not a trial.”
Cookie smiled slightly. “Thanks, Sheila, but I don’t mind answering. I call myself a witch because I feel I’m honoring the women who were burned at the stake in the name of witchcraft. I reclaim it. That’s all. And if people have a problem with it, they can either educate themselves or not. But I don’t dwell on their issues with it.”
“Humph,” Vera said and laughed. “I guess she told me.”
Cookie smiled. “Well, you asked.”
“Indeed,” Sheila said. “I’d much rather talk about your sex life than Cookie’s witchcraft.”
“Oh yes, me too,” Annie said. “What happened last week? What kind of kinky sex did you have last weekend?”
“Good Lord,” Sheila gasped, red-faced, clutching her chest. “The way you just blurt those things out.”
Paige, the other steady scrapbook club member, entered the room with a flourish. Paige, DeeAnn, Sheila, and Vera were the original crop. Annie came along last year; then came Cookie.
When Vera thought about how things had changed over the past year, it almost gave her vertigo. She was now the mother of a sixteen-month hellion of a baby, who refused to take naps and didn’t want to be weaned. Annie was going to be a published author. Sheila’s daughter Donna was now in her senior year of high school—which set Sheila all atwitter from time to time. Paige had announced she was going to take an early retirement from the school system—this year, her twenty-fifth, would be her last. And DeeAnn’s bakery was just becoming more and more successful.
Paige’s breezy pink silk shirt almost caught on the corner of the ragged table as she waltzed by. “Sorry I’m late.” She placed a scrapbook on the table and opened the pages. “I had a flat tire, and it took a while for my husband to get it changed. I mean, Jesus, it’s not as if he hasn’t changed a tire before. What kind of muffins do you have there?”
“Pumpkin cranberry,” Annie answered, holding her page up and eyeballing it. “We were just going to talk about Vera’s sex life.”
“Oh, really? What did he do to you this time?” Paige asked.
Vera just laughed and waved her hand. They wouldn’t believe her if she said that there was absolutely no sex between them the last time she went to the city. They just laughed a lot and talked even more. They had so much to say to one another. She would never tire of hearing Tony’s Brooklyn accent as he told her stories about going on tour with this or that dance company. His voice soothed her—it felt like home. And his touch burned her skin with a passion she hadn’t known since they were together all those years ago in college, as young dancers. Maybe it was time he visited Cumberland Creek. But how would Bill feel about that? Would he make trouble for them? God knows she couldn’t keep his coming a secret. He’d be arriving on a Harley, and if that wasn’t enough of an attention getter, he was a beautiful dark man. Not many of those around Cumberland Creek. He’d stick out no matter where they went.
“Yoo-hoo.” Paige waved her hand in front of Vera’s face. “Where are you? I was asking about the dead body. Did you say she had red hair?”
“Yes,” Vera said. “Long red hair. Annie saw her.”
“You know, I was just thinking about this the other day. There seems to be a bunch of redheads that live up on the other side of Jenkins Hollow,” Paige said, twirling her own wavy blond hair with her slender finger.
Vera looked at Annie, who, at the mention of Jenkins Hollow, coughed on her wine.
“I’m just going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Annie finally said.
If you’ve not read Chapter One of SCRAPPED, you can find it here. In the mean time, here’s chapter two. The book will be available December 31, 2012, which means I will have had TWO books published in the same year. But who’s counting, right?
Well, if it isn’t the scrapbook queen, looking like hell on a Sunday afternoon,” Beatrice said to Sheila as she walked in the kitchen, where they were all gathered.
Sheila waved her off and walked by her. Vera just shook her head. Sheila and Vera were best friends from childhood, and Beatrice loved to pick on Sheila, just for the fun of it.
“Nice to see you, Bea,” Annie said.
“At least someone around here has some manners,” Beatrice said.
“What are you doing here?” Annie asked.
“I came to see my grandbaby and was just on my way out. The child is sound asleep.”
“I went to the store, came back, Mom was here, and Cookie had things under control,” Vera said.
Cookie poked her head in from around the corner. “Yes, Elizabeth went straight down after you left. I made soup and tried to get your mother to stay.”
“I will now,” Beatrice said. “If everybody else is going to eat the vegetarian organic stuff she calls food, I guess it can’t be so bad.”
Beatrice hated to admit it, but the pumpkin soup did smell heavenly. But she thought all of this vegetarian, back-to-the-earth stuff was nonsense. She suspected that if any of these young, flighty types had to survive from “living from the earth,” they wouldn’t know the first thing about it. But she couldn’t help but like this Cookie—even though she had many of the characteristics Beatrice would have despised in anybody else.
First, she was too damned thin—even thinner than Annie. The woman looked like she needed a big, thick, bloody steak. She was pale and wispy, with long black hair, which she sometimes pulled off her face with a thick, colorful headband. Eastern-looking silver jewelry always dangled from her. Her eyes were almost unnaturally green, and she carefully applied a bit too much eye make-up. While Vera, her own daughter, changed hair color more frequently than anybody she’d ever known, Beatrice preferred the natural look.
Cookie was a yoga teacher and taught classes in Vera’s dance studio. Yoga was a good thing, Beatrice knew, but this woman took herself a bit too seriously with all the “Namastes” and “Peace be with yous.” Who did she think she was? A divine messenger?
Ah, well, she chalked it up to youth. Basically, Cookie was a good sort—very good with Elizabeth, Bea’s one and only granddaughter. She sat down at the kitchen table with the other women. God knows what they were chattering about. She wasn’t paying a bit of attention. She suddenly thought of going upstairs and waking up Elizabeth just so she could hold her, play with her. Of course, she’d never do that—not in front of Vera, anyway.
“Did you hear me?” Vera was suddenly sitting next to her. “A drowned person washed up in the park today.”
“What? In Cumberland Creek?” Beatrice said, clutching her chest. Cumberland Creek, population twelve thousand, going on twenty thousand or so. When Beatrice was a girl, there was a fuss about the population reaching 750. It was two thousand for twenty years or so. She lost count a few years back with all the new housing development on the west side of town. McMansions.
“Yes, in the river at the park,” Vera said. “Scary.”
“I imagine. Who was it?” she asked Annie, who was sitting down at the table next to Vera.
“I have no idea. Detective Bryant said they might know her name by tomorrow.”
“Her?” Beatrice replied.
“It was sort of hard to tell, but there was a lot of long red hair,” Annie said, twisting her own wavy black hair behind her ear.
“Hmm. I don’t know of many redheads around here. Do you? Of course, sometimes I feel like I don’t know half the people here anymore.”
“Could be from somewhere else,” Annie said, just as bowls of steaming pumpkin soup were being passed around the table.
The scent of the spiced pumpkin reached out and grabbed Beatrice. The scent of pumpkin, spiced with cinnamon and cumin, filled the room. Suddenly she was nearly salivating in anticipation. She reached for a slice of the crusty whole wheat bread—still warm from the oven—and spread butter on it. Goodness, Cookie had gone to a lot of trouble; she had even baked bread.
“Great soup, Cookie,” Vera said and sighed. “You didn’t have to do this. I wasn’t expecting you to bake bread . . . just watch Lizzie while I went out for a bit of exercise and groceries.”
“Now, don’t worry about it,” Cookie said. “Since she went right to sleep, I had some time on my hands. I just wanted to help out. I know how hard it can be. I was raised by a single mom.”
Beatrice grimaced at the phrase “single mother,” which was not what she wanted for her daughter, who wouldn’t let her ex move back in—no matter how much he begged. Thank the universe, Bill had moved out of Beatrice’s house and into his own apartment, finally. Beatrice hoped that it would work out—for the baby’s sake—but Vera wasn’t interested. Beatrice couldn’t blame her for that. Also, Vera was seeing a man in New York. They rarely saw each other, and Vera had yet to bring him home to Cumberland Creek. She stole away to New York when she could. Beatrice doubted that it was serious. Bill, however, was seething. Served him right.
So there was another unexplained death in the small, but growing town of Cumberland Creek. Beatrice mused that things had just calmed down from the Maggie Rae case. Just what the town needed: more media attention, more outsiders, as if the new McMansion dwellers on the outskirts of town weren’t enough for her and the other locals to manage. Beatrice hated to generalize about folks, but they all thought they were mighty important.
“So, does the death look suspicious?” Beatrice asked.
“I hate to say it,” Annie said, dipping her bread into the creamy orange soup. “But it does to me. It looks like she was placed in a sack. I’m not sure she could have put herself in it. And there were these weird markings on her arm.”
“Markings?” Vera said. “Like scratches?”
“Sort of,” Annie said. “It might not mean anything.” She turned back to her soup. “Man, this is good, Cookie.”
A smile spread across Cookie’s face. “Thanks.”
Cookie didn’t smile like that often, Beatrice mused. It wasn’t that she was gloomy; she always had a look of bemused happiness. But it was in her eyes and the way she spoke.
Beatrice tuned out the chitchatting. Until they knew it was a murder, what was the point in speculating? She didn’t want to believe there was another murder in this community. Damn, the soup and bread were just what she needed today. She hadn’t realized how hungry she was.
Just then there was a knock at the door. It was Detective Bryant, who walked into the kitchen.
“I heard you were at the park this morning,” he said to Sheila. “Did you see anything suspicious?”
He looked happy, like a man with a mission, energetic.
Sheila thought for a moment. “No. It was pretty quiet. But if I remember anything, I’ll let you know.”
“Oh my God, it smells heavenly in here,” he said, stretching his arms, then turning around to see Beatrice. “But look what the devil brought in.”
Beatrice swallowed her soup. “Bite me, Bryant.”
The detective sure could hold a grudge. But then again, so could Beatrice.
Just in case, you haven’t read the first book in my Cumberland Creek Mystery Series, where the first three chapters are in the back, I thought I’d give you a glimpse of book two here. SCRAPPED will be published December 31, 2012 and you can already pre-order it on Amazon. (End of sales pitch. heh.)
Spending Sunday afternoon watching the police drag a body from a river was not what Annie had planned for the day. She was kicking a soccer ball around in the backyard with her boys when she was called away.
She took a deep breath as she walked through the crowd and over the yellow tape, which roped off the section to the river where the police and paramedics had gathered. Red and orange lights circled and flashed. Ducks swam in the river. A comforting arm slid around a woman standing in the crowd. A group of Mennonites stood from the bench they were sitting on and lowered their heads. What were the Mennonites doing at the park on a Sunday? Odd.
Across the river, where the park was more populated, Annie saw children playing on the swings and bars on the playground. Also, a rowdy game of basketball was taking place in another corner of the blacktopped surface. In the grassy area, a Frisbee was being thrown between three friends. Groups of mothers had gathered on the benches, trying not to alert their children or to look too closely at what was happening across the rushing Cumberland Creek River.
A hush came over the crowd on this side of the river as the nude body of a small red-haired woman emerged from the water in a torn sack, her hair dangling over the side, along with a foot. The body, mostly shrouded by the shredded sack, was placed on the ground. Cameras flashed—again.
Every time Annie viewed a dead person, she silently thanked one of her old journalism professors, who had insisted all his students witness autopsies. “If you’re going to get sick, it’s better here than in front of a cop. He’ll lose all respect for you.”
“Hello, Annie,” said Jesse, one of the uniformed police officers she had come to know over the past year of reporting about Maggie Rae and her family. Now Annie found herself under contract with a publisher to write a book about the case, which she was just finishing up. But she was still freelancing for the Washington Herald from time to time and was called in this morning to check this out. Was this incident another murder in the small town of Cumberland Creek?
“Hi, Jesse. Where’s your boss?”
“Behind you,” came his voice. Then Detective Bryant walked by her to look over the body more closely. His eyebrows knit, and he leaned in even closer, sliding gloves on his hands. “What the hell is this?”
“Scratches?” Jesse said, looking closer.
Annie was hoping to avoid looking closely at the actual body. Although she’d seen way too many dead bodies during her tenure as a reporter, it never was any easier. And she thought she’d left this behind her when she left Washington. She’d gotten sucked back into reporting during the Maggie Rae case. She was just beginning to get some breathing space—her book sent off to the publisher, nothing much else to report on in Cumberland Creek—and now this. She hoped it was an accident and not a murder.
“No,” Detective Bryant said. “Look closer. They are little markings of some kind. I can’t quite make them out. Where’s the coroner?”
Annie forced herself to look at the gray-blue arm the detective was holding gingerly in his hand. Okay, it’s just an arm, she told herself. But she could see the markings.
“It looks like Hebrew,” she blurted.
“Really?” Jesse said.
“Look again. That’s not Hebrew,” Detective Bryant said.
Annie leaned in closer. She had to admit, now that she was looking closer at it, that it didn’t look like Hebrew at all.
The detective turned to the coroner as he walked closer to the group. “I want close-up photos of these markings. Photos from all angles.”
“Must be a recent drowning,” the coroner said. “If that’s the cause of death.”
“What makes you say that?” Annie asked.
“You can still recognize the body as a person. If it goes too long, it’s difficult.”
Annie’s stomach twisted.
As Detective Bryant dropped the arm, she viewed the face of the victim between the clusters of shoulders of the police as they backed away. Young. Blue eyes staring blankly. Tangled red hair. Her face showed no sign of struggle—like a grimace or a look of anger or regret. The woman looked like a gray-blue rubber doll. Of course, what expression would a dead person have but none?
“Who found her?” Annie asked.
“It was a runner this morning, a Josh Brandt,” Detective Bryant answered. “He’s home now. I’d appreciate it if you’d give him some time before you zoom in for the kill,” he said and grinned, his blue eyes sparkling.
Annie refused to engage with his taunting. She watched as he brushed away a strand of red hair from the young woman’s face. It was the most gentle gesture she’d ever seen him make.
“So what do you think the markings are?” Annie asked the detective.
“I’ve no idea,” he said. “But I’m going to find out. I have a friend that specializes in symbols—if that is what these markings are.”
“Will you let me know?”
“Sure. I’ve got nothing better to do,” he said and smirked.
“Any idea who she is?”
“None,” he said. “Check back with us tomorrow.”
“Thanks,” she said and walked away.
It was a beautiful fall day—so much color—golds, reds, crimson, orange, yellow. Fall in Cumberland Creek was as colorful as any painting or photo. It could be an advertisement for the way fall should look, with its mountains, colors, and crisp blue skies.
Annie looked off into the distance at the mountains. Bryant would probably not let her know about those symbols, Annie decided. She would have to research them herself. She was sure of it. She stood on the dirt path and quickly sketched some of the symbols—if that was indeed what they were, and not odd scratches from a struggle with rocks or the limb of a tree. If they were simply scratches, though, the markings were weirdly smooth. Her stomach twisted again. Another murder. They just needed to confirm the cause of death and call it one—but Annie felt that it was. That the body was in a sack made her more certain, and she wondered if the sack had been weighted before the river’s rocks and current slashed it to pieces.
She walked along the riverside path toward Cumberland Creek proper, where she lived. She walked right past Vera’s dancing school, closed because today was Sunday, as were all the town businesses. It wouldn’t do anybody any good to open on Sunday. There would be no customers. Most of the population in Cumberland Creek spent Sundays in church and at home—except for Annie, Vera, and their friends, who were usually nursing mild hangovers from the Saturday night crop, when they gathered to scrapbook in Sheila’s basement.
Annie reached the sidewalk, which veered toward Vera’s house. When she’d talked with Vera this morning, she’d said Cookie was coming over and was planning to watch Vera’s daughter, Elizabeth, and make her special pumpkin soup, while Vera went to the grocer’s. Annie’s mouth began to water. The woman could cook.
She could also do some yoga, twisting her body into all sorts of poses as if it were nothing at all. Annie loved Cookie’s Friday evening class. She had taken classes when she lived in the D.C. area, but none were like this. Cookie created a safe environment in which you could explore and reach out for new poses—she was not a teacher who pushed you to do anything painful.
Cookie explained to them one evening how she kept a yoga journal as a beginner and how it helped for her to see how much she’d progressed. Now Annie was working on something similar, a combination scrapbook or dream book of sorts— mundane, with ordinary beginning techniques interspersed with writing about a pose or thought. She was using self-portraits. This was a different kind of scrapbooking than what Annie had first learned from the Cumberland Creek crop; it was more like art journaling.
Annie thought about stopping by for a few minutes before heading home, but she should be getting home to Mike and the boys. But it would be nice to see her friends after witnessing the disturbing events at the park. Of course, she’d have to fill them all in.
“Oh God, there you are!” Sheila came around the corner, nearly knocking Annie over. Her hair needed brushing, her glasses looked crooked, and her T-shirt was a wrinkled mess.
“What’s going on?” Annie said, steadying herself. Why was she so tired today?
“Did you hear? They found a dead body in the river,” Sheila said, panting.
“Man, this place is amazing,” Annie said. “News travels so fast.”
“What?” Sheila said.
“I was just there,” Annie said.
“Well, for heaven’s sake,” Sheila said, taking her by the other arm. “Are you heading to Vera’s place?”
Annie nodded. Okay, so she wouldn’t stay long.
When Vera opened the door, smiling, the smell of pumpkin, cinnamon, and cumin, with its promise of warmth, met Annie, the image of a drowned young woman fresh on her mind.
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