My fifth novel, DEAD AND BURIED, is available now! With that in mind, I thought I would re-release the first two chapters to whet everyone’s appetite. I’m really excited about this one. I hope you all enjoy it. Your continued support means a great deal to me.
Dead and Buried: Chapter One
She was aware that she was awake…but only vaguely. She had been asleep forever, or at least, that’s how she felt. Her joints were so stiff… Had she been at a party? She couldn’t quite remember. She remembered Christmas shopping, but that might have been the day before… was it? God, she still had so much to do before the holidays. The food had been ordered, but it had yet to be picked up from Edgartown Meat And Fish. All of her gift shopping was done except for little things—stocking stuffers mostly. Rather brilliantly, she thought, she had bought—some of the family—theatre tickets. They all had so much crap already, so much clutter. Who needed more junk? Giving people the gift of making memories—that was the way to go. Besides, they were easy to wrap. She just stuck them in a card and put them on the tree! Had she put them on the tree yet? She was pretty sure that she had. Had she put up the tree, yet? God, she felt so out of it.
She still needed to wake up. Maybe she’d make some coffee. Had she been napping?
Her in-laws were coming for the holidays and that was never an easy thing. They were great people, make no mistake, but they were still in-laws. She never felt quite good enough when she set the table for example. She always did it differently that her mother-in-law would. She made gravy that was thinner, or thicker, or lumpier than her mother-in-law did. Once her mother-in-law had actually commented on just how smooth the gravy was. Naturally, her tone was such that it implied just how much everyone preferred lumpy gravy, but she shouldn’t worry about it. Was she paranoid? She really needed to let it go. It was gravy.
The air was so heavy. It smelled sweet. It smelled wet. Maybe ‘dank’ was a better description. Was that the ocean that smelled like that? She listened for the waves at Wasque. She couldn’t hear them. Funny. She could always hear the waves at Wasque. That was one of the reason she had asked her husband to build so far down on Chappaquiddick. The walks on Wasque were one of her favourite things in the world…
She could see the beach now. The colours were so vibrant on the beach. Funny, she could see the beach, but she couldn’t hear it. It was so beautiful—what a warm, sunny day.
Her throat felt dry. Her breathing was hoarse.
She ran along the beach. Her bare feet were wet and cool in the sand. Chappaquiddick on a hot day was the best thing in the world.
Wait, it was Christmas. She was on Chappaquiddick for Christmas. It wasn’t hot out—it was cold. What was the matter with her? She needed to focus…it was so hard…
She looked back over her shoulder at her Daddy. He was chasing her down the beach. Daddy was so handsome. She loved that he was the youngest, most handsome, Daddy of all of her friends. He was shouting at her, but she couldn’t hear him. He was too far away and the waves were too loud. She laughed. It was a little girl laugh—a giggle with a lot of life in it. She liked the sound, even in her own head. There wasn’t a happier sound in the world than that of a child laughing, she thought.
She knew her eyes were open. She opened her eyes and closed them. She could feel the tickle of her eyelashes brushing against each other. There was no light. She couldn’t see, she couldn’t see a thing. She ran her hands along her body. This was real. Her hands were cold, clammy. Dirt stuck to them when she felt her legs. It smelled so earthy—sickly, sweet.
As she ran toward the ocean, the sand got harder, wetter, easier to run on. Her Daddy was bigger but he couldn’t catch up. She looked behind her and she could see him. He was running and getting farther and farther behind her. How was that possible? They were supposed to be playing tag. He was still screaming at her. Was Daddy crying? Maybe he was laughing. She had never seen her Daddy cry.
Warm stickiness ran into her mouth. It ran from her face, from her nose. She licked at it instinctively. Its metallic tang told her it was blood. She definitely had a nosebleed.
She looked at her to-do list. She made a Christmas checklist every year. It was really the only way to stay organised. All of her groceries were on the kitchen counter. She loved it. What a feast! This was definitely going to be the best Christmas ever. They had never hosted it on Chappaquiddick before, thinking that it would be too much trouble for everyone, but this year they had said, to hell with it! It was going to be worth it. She could tell. Her feet were so cold. She looked down to see the ocean wash over them. She was up to her ankles in the surf.
With both hands, she felt her face. It was cold and covered with grime. She brushed off the dirt. Her throat really hurt now—burned. Her chest burned too; it burned from the inside out. Her lungs were tight, restricted. She tried to breathe deeply, but there just wasn’t enough air. With the last attempt, she convulsed in a heavy cough. She lurched forward and hit her forehead on something hard. Her body shook. Blood ran down the back of her throat.
She waded deeper into the surf. She had never been scared of the ocean. She loved its big waves. She giggled her little girl laugh as the cold ocean rushed at her, inviting her in. Her long, sun-bleached hair stuck to her cheeks in salty clumps. Her pink summer dress slapped to her skin. It was her favourite dress. She hoped it wasn’t wrecked. Mommy would fix it. It would dry. God, she hadn’t seen it in ages. She reached out into the waves and saw her small pink hand. It was the hand of a child. A large wave crashed over her—consuming her.
Sand fell in her eyes when she hit her head. Reflexively, her eyelids shut, but only succeeded in grinding the sand in deeper. She tried to get up, but there wasn’t room. She tried to roll over, but there wasn’t room. She felt the walls around her. They were wood—planks of wood. She felt as far as she could reach. The occasional nail pricked her finger. She coughed again—more blood. She was getting colder.
She looked down and saw her pretty pink dress floating in the sea around her. It was such a nice dress. It had frills at the bottom. She loved the way they floated in the water. Her dress ballooned in the wave; it looked like the jellyfish that sometimes washed up on shore. Mommy told her never to touch jellyfish, no matter how pretty they looked. The water swirled around her. She could see her underwear. There were so many bubbles everywhere. They tickled.
Her hands and feet were heavy and impossible to lift. She could feel them lying beside her like wet sandbags. Her head lay on the wooden slat beneath her. She could feel something crawling in her hair. Her throat stopped hurting and she could see the ocean, she could see the sun. She was running. She could see her Daddy. He was so handsome, like when she was a little girl. Daddy had been dead so long. God, how she missed him. It was so good to see him. They were running on the beach…
The water pulled her down. The blues got darker. The water got colder. Her pink dress looked purple, then navy, then black—everything was going black. The last thing she could see was her hand…it was so small.
Dead And Buried: Chapter Two
Chief Laurie Knickles stared at the wall in front of her. Thick sweatshirts of every colour bulged from the wood and metal shelves. They all had one thing in common—The Black Dog logo. Her husband may be a washashore, but he insisted on dressing like a tourist. Laurie couldn’t remember the last time that he had worn an article of clothing that wasn’t blazoned with the words Martha’s Vineyard, Edgartown, or Oak Bluffs, or embossed with the iconic Black Dog logo. On a really banner day, Charles might be wearing a sweatshirt with a Black dog on it, board shorts that read Martha’s Vineyard, and a hat that read Vineyard 1642. That’s what he had come down wearing to go out for dinner a week ago. Laurie had been adamant. “You have to take something off and replace it with an article of clothing that I can’t read. I don’t care which one it is, but one of them has got to go, or we’re not leaving this house! I’m sick of eating dinner with a billboard!” Charles had gone back upstairs and put on a plain blue T-shirt. It was a Slip77 shirt with a small white seagull and orange sun—representative of the secession flag—tastefully dyed on the left breast. Laurie knew he’d selected it on purpose—it was her favourite shirt. It looked great on him. In fact, Laurie had just left Slip77 where she had loaded up on Christmas gifts for Charles. Their stuff was top quality and there was plenty to choose from that didn’t have that touristy feel. Now, to appease his touristy heart, Laurie was at Black Dog looking for something Charles would like, but wouldn’t make her crazy. She had seen a beautiful black full-zip hoodie with red and white trim, but Charles hated wearing black—he thought it was depressing. Laurie set down her bags and reached into the shelf in front of her. She pulled out a moss green, full-zip, hoodie with cream and burnt-orange trim. It was very soft and the colours were Charles’ favourites—warm and earthy. Not only could she could live with it, she rather liked it. Pleased with herself, she picked up her bags and headed toward the cash. She still had time to walk down the street and get a bowl of chowder at The Wharf for lunch.
Having paid for Charles’ present, Laurie stepped out onto Edgartown’s Main Street. She inhaled deeply. The air was cold and fresh. It felt good in her throat and in her lungs. When she took a deep breath like that, she got the salty tang of sea air in her nose. It reminded her of when she had first moved to the island, when the ocean had filled every breath. Now, she only caught it here and there, when she took an extra deep breath or went for a walk in the early morning after a rainstorm.
Big snowflakes fluttered toward the ground as Laurie walked toward Water Street. A snowfall on a sunny, windless, afternoon was one of Laurie’s favourite things. It reminded her of being a little girl in Canada. Laurie and Charles had grown up together in Toronto before losing touch in their teens. When they had bumped into each other again, both literally and figuratively—neither of them had been looking where they were going—you could have knocked Laurie over with a feather. She couldn’t believe it was Charles. Eventually, it seemed, everyone came to Martha’s Vineyard. Three years of long distance relationship had been enough for both of them. They had married last year. The wedding, organised by their dear friend Edie at The Edgartown Inn, had been beautiful; however, the days leading up to it had been harrowing. Someone had tried to kill Charles because they believed Charles knew something about their involvement in the death of a young man. Charles had ended up in the hospital, but they got through it. The guilty parties were imprisoned and the wedding had taken place. After taking some time, they had honeymooned on Nantucket, only to come back early and find themselves in the middle of a case of multiple murders. Someone had decided to take care of their personal problems by removing three women from the island permanently. Charles and Laurie had helped their police friends Chief Jefferies and Detective Jack Burrell, wrap that case over a year ago. The peace and quiet of bucolic living that had drawn them to Martha’s Vineyard in the first place, had returned. All was well.
The past summer had been beautiful and the shoulder season had been quiet. Laurie’s favourite month on the island was September. The September sun burned as bright, and warm as it did in August, but the island moved at a much slower pace. Now, it was December. This weekend would mark Charles’ first Christmas In Edgartown. They had been married and living on-island last Christmas, but the second weekend in December was the island’s Christmas In Edgartown celebration and Charles had been in Toronto visiting family. This year, they had plans to do it up proper! Laurie and Charles both loved Christmas and Christmas on Martha’s Vineyard was picture perfect. The wrought-iron lampposts were trimmed with pine garland and Christmas lights. The town hall, local businesses, and the Memorial Wharf were all trimmed in lights. Christmas trees on green wood lattices garrisoned the street corners, and tonight would be the lighting of the Edgartown Lighthouse marking the beginning of Christmas In Edgartown. Hundreds of people would gather at The Shore Line Hotel, many arriving by horse-drawn wagon, for eggnog, hot toddies, and carolling. The evening would climax with a countdown to the Edgartown Lighthouse being lit with Christmas lights. It was like having an entire weekend directed by Frank Capra. Laurie loved it—a weekend of pure schmaltzy perfection.
Laurie was hungry. As she headed up Main Street toward her truck, she was sure that every passerby could hear her stomach growling. She would have gone directly in for lunch from shopping, but she was carrying far too many bags to manage sitting at a table. Laurie would unload everything, then relax, and have lunch at The Wharf in comfort. It was a short and pleasant walk to the parking lot just past Edgartown Books.
Edgartown was bustling with holiday excitement in contrast to the stillness that had blanketed the island for months. The entire island had been populated with no one but islanders since Columbus Day. Until twenty-four hours ago, the now bright and energetic storefronts had been dark. Restaurant doors now swung continuously, emitting bursts of laughter and music into the streets; they had been bolted and silent only a day prior. Every hotel room was booked for this weekend and had been for quite some time.
Laurie watched young couples and families bounce their way down Main Street. Their expressions were those usually worn by children in toy stores. They laughed and wore Santa hats; they bought roasted chestnuts and hot cider from pop-up street vendors.
“Merry Christmas, Chief!” called out a blonde woman with large sunglasses and a fur hat.
“Merry Christmas, Sandra!” Laurie called.
“I hope you and Charles will be at the Minnesingers Concert at The Old Whaling Church tonight!” called Sandra. “Katie’s nephew is singing!”
“We wouldn’t miss it! We already bought our tickets! I want Charles to get the full Christmas In Edgartownexperience!” The two women waved and Laurie continued toward the parking lot. She passed Edgartown Books and cut across the parkette toward her truck. Laurie pulled her hand out of her mitten. She dug around in her coat pocket for her keys, found them, and popped the back hatch. It opened with a click. The cargo space was large and there was more than enough room for her packages. She laid them in gently and closed the hatch again. Laurie had left the squad car at home opting for their new Toyota Land Cruiser instead. It was “new” to them, but in fact it was a 1993. Laurie loved it—it ran like a champ. Sometimes, when she was off-duty, she just didn’t feel like driving a squad car. She certainly couldn’t take the squad car fishing on Wasque or through the bush out toward Quansoo. Having ‘Chilmark Racing Stripes’ on the Land Cruiser was one thing, but having them on the police cruiser was quite another. Laurie chuckled to herself. When Chief Philip Squanto of the Chilmark Police Department had first explained to her that ‘Chilmark Racing Stripes’ were actually scratches from the bush and not auto-detailing like she’d thought, he’d laughed so hard that he had dropped his fishing rod, and had to chase it into the surf. The image of the big man lunging into the ocean still made her laugh. That was a long time ago. She had still been considered an outsider then—a moniker she was slowly shedding.
Packages stowed and the hatch shut, Laurie headed back down toward The Wharf. There was a bowl of chowder and maybe a clubhouse sandwich waiting with her name on it.
* * *
“Jesus H. Christ! Fenway! You’re going to drive me to distraction!” Fenway The Beagle stared up at Charles with big brown eyes that tore right through Charles’ heart no matter what the dog had done. “Give me that shoe!” Charles reached for the shoe in the puppy’s mouth, but Fenway was too fast for him. Fenway The Beagle yelped with a mouthful of Nike runner, and bolted for the back door. Without breaking speed, he head-butted his way through the trap door that Charles had installed only a week ago. Bubbas, the mackerel tabby, lay on the desk beside Charles’ laptop. She absorbed the situation with large green eyes and an expression of bemused disapproval.
Charles, who had started to give chase, gave up when the dog made it outside. “Fine. That’s another pair for you, Fenway.” Charles shook his head. No one had warned him that the biggest expense for dog owners was footwear. The phone on the desk vibrated. Bubbas reached out her paw, smacked the phone, and connected the call. “Thanks, Bubbas.” Charles moved her paw and picked up his iPhone. “Hey, babe.”
“Hi!” said Laurie. “Did Bubbas answer the phone again?”
“I love that! We need to put that on YouTube! What are you up to?” she asked.
“Writing,” said Charles. Charles could hear the smile on Laurie’s face; it was contagious.
“How’s it going?” Laurie asked.
“Pretty well, I think. I’m not really sure. I’ve never written a book before—maybe it sucks,” Charles chuckled.
“I doubt it,” Laurie said. “I read your short stories and they were pretty great.”
“I’m not sure that I can trust you for an unbiased opinion,” Charles grinned.
“Then stop asking me to read them,” Laurie said. Her tone wasn’t even half-serious. “I laughed at all the right places, didn’t I?”
“True,” agreed Charles.
“Exactly,” Laurie stated. “Stop being so goddamn needy! It’s exhausting. Are you still coming down to meet me?”
“Absolutely. Are you done your shopping for me?”
“Yes, but I’ve kept all the receipts. If you keep up this level of neurosis, I’m taking back all of your presents and buying you therapy sessions instead!” Laurie laughed.
Charles laughed in spite of himself. “Hey, when I get down there, let’s go to Shirley’s Hardware on the way home—I want to buy a shelf or something. Fenway got another Nike. We’re going to have to keep the shoes off the floor. That damned dog—I swear he’s going to grow up thinking his name is Jesus H Christ!”
Laurie laughed, “You can’t blame a dog for being a dog!”
“The hell I can’t,” said Charles.
“He’s not even full-grown yet. Sweet little man is still a puppy.”
“They were your runners.”
“What? Which ones?” yelled Laurie.
“Your new purple and pink Nike’s.” Charles’ tone was mildly smug.
“Jesus H Christ!” Laurie barked. “That little bugger!”
“That’s what I said,” Charles chuckled. At the sound of the trap door’s swing, Charles turned around. Fenway the Beagle trotted into the room and sat down. “I’ll be in Edgartown in an hour. Where should I meet you?”
“The Wharf? Bar side?”
“Sounds good. See you soon.” Charles hung up. He looked down at Fenway. “It’s not good, buddy—you got mommy mad at you now.”
Fenway The Beagle cocked his head to the side and whined sweetly.
Charles shook his head. “It’s a good thing you’re cute.”
* * *
Charles walked into The Wharf and spotted Laurie immediately. She was dunking a sandwich into seafood chowder and watching football highlights. Charles liked to watch her when she wasn’t looking. She was so beautiful. Her naturally streaked blonde hair fell around her shoulders and her expression was one of happiness and contentment. The fact that she had agreed to team up and face life with him still blew him away. He wasn’t sure exactly why she thought she got a good bargain, but he wasn’t questioning it—he thought he got the deal of the century. He walked toward her with an unconscious smile, pulling his arms out of his coat as he went. “Hey!” he said.
Laurie turned at the sound of his voice. “How bad is my shoe?”
“I’m not really sure,” said Charles. “He bolted outside with it. It’s probably under the porch. I’ll get it later.”
“Okay. Thanks,” Laurie smiled. “Here, want half? I can’t finish it. My eyes were bigger than my stomach.”
Charles reached for the sandwich half and took a bite. The bacon, turkey, cheese, and bread worked magic on his taste buds. Maybe he was hungrier than he thought. “Are we staying for a while?”
Laurie shrugged. “If you want.”
“I’m going to order a Bad Martha’s and a bowl of chowder. You want a beer?”
Laurie nodded with her mouth full.
Charles turned to find the bartender. Catching his eye, he called out, “Two Bad Martha’s and a bowl of chowder please, Sam. When you have a moment. Thanks a lot.” Charles returned to Laurie. “Did you get all of your shopping done?”
“Mostly. I just have stocking-stuffers left now, I think.” Laurie smiled. She was quite pleased with herself.
“Wow! I’m impressed!” Charles said.
“So am I. I’m usually running around like a crazy woman on the twenty-fourth of December!”
“Really? You’d never be able to tell from your heart-felt gifts. I will never forget the Christmas of the chainsaw and the edible underwear!”
Laurie laughed out loud. “Shut up! I never got you a chainsaw or edible underwear!”
“I know and it’s all I’ve ever wanted,” Charles frowned and clutched at his chest melodramatically.
“Oh my God, you’re such an idiot,” Laurie chuckled. “But you’re my idiot.”
The bartender brought their pints and Charles lifted his glass to Laurie. “To my first official Christmas In Edgartown!”
Laurie picked up her glass. “Cheers!”
They clinked glasses and each of them took a healthy gulp. Setting their pints down, they looked at each other with smiles of pure pleasure. Neither one of them said anything—they didn’t have to. They just smiled and they both knew what the smiles meant. Laurie turned back to her chowder and Charles finished his sandwich. When his soup arrived, Charles ate it in silence while Laurie nursed her pint and watched the football highlights. Charles asked Sam the bartender for The Boston Globe and rifled through to the book reviews. Seeing that the new Stephen King book had been reviewed, he folded the paper for easy handling and started to read.
After almost an hour had passed, Laurie stretched and looked at her watch. The football highlights were over, Sam the bartender had cleared away their dishes, and Charles had finished his second pint. “Are you about ready to go?” she asked.
“I am.” Charles nodded.
“Good, because if you want to go and buy a shelf and bring it home before we go to the Minnesingers concert, we’d better get moving,” said Laurie. She stepped down from the bar chair and put on her coat.
“Oh, good point,” said Charles. “Where did you park?”
“Over behind Edgartown Books,” she said.
“Why all the way up there? That’s not like you.”
“It was all I could find! This town is crazy this weekend,” Laurie explained.
“No kidding.” Charles put on his coat and hat and followed Laurie out of the restaurant. They headed up the street. “Who is going to this concert-thing tonight?”
“It will be packed! Everyone is going,” said Laurie.
“No, I mean, are we meeting anyone there, or is it just us?” Charles elaborated.
“We’re meeting Edie and Jeff and Chris.” Laurie smiled with holiday excitement. “It’s going to be a great concert—you wait and see!”
“I’m sure it will be awesome. I love choral music. I grew up with it. My mom sang in a choir, remember?” Charles reached out an arm and put it around Laurie’s shoulders. She leaned into him.
“Oh, that’s right. I’d forgotten,” said Laurie. “The Amadeus Singers?”
“That’s right! I’m impressed.”
“I had totally forgotten about them,” she said.
“Jack!” Charles called to a young couple across the street. The couple stopped, looked in the direction of Charles and Laurie, waved, and crossed Main Street in their direction.
Detective Jack Burrell was in his uniform, complete with winter coat and hat. Beside him a girl was bundled into a black winter coat with a fur-lined hood. She was wearing a pink hat, mitts, and scarf. Her face barely peeked out from behind all of her defences against the cold.
“Virginia is that you in there?” Charles laughed.
“I don’t like the cold!” Came a muffled and distressed voice.
“No kidding!” Charles said. “Are you guys going to that concert-thing tonight? The Old Whaling Church was heated last I checked.”
Jack shook his head. “Nah, we’re skipping it. We’ll be at the lighting of the lighthouse though. You guys going up for that after?”
“I don’t know.” Charles looked at Laurie. “Are we?”
“If the concert lets out in time, absolutely—but we’d better get a move on!”
“Where are you guys heading now?” Charles asked Jack.
“We’re meeting some friends at The Newes,” said Jack. “Then we’re all heading up to The Shore Line Hotel. Maybe we’ll see you there?”
“Sounds good!” said Charles. Charles patted Jack on the shoulder as the two couples separated. When Jack and Virginia were out of earshot, Charles turned to Laurie. “I like them as a couple,” he said.
“Don’t get too used to the idea,” said Laurie.
“Why not?” asked Charles. “Has the island’s broken telephone told you something?”
“No, nothing like that. I’m just saying Jack’s a cop,” Laurie said. “Being a cop makes starting a relationship hard on young people. Don’t hold your breath.”
“Well, aren’t you the prophet of doom!” Charles and Laurie crossed the street and made their way across the small parkette beside the bookstore. The parking lot was just behind it. “You and I made out alright and I didn’t even live in this country!”
“They’re not even a couple yet, Charles.” Laurie shook her head.
“I know but still—”
“Charles!” Laurie cried and ran across the parking lot.
“What’s the matter?” Charles’ eyes followed Laurie. She stopped on the other side of the lot and turned to look at him. Her eyes were wide.
“Our truck’s been stolen!”