Monday, May 13, 2013
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Off the Coast of England
February 9, 1851
You should come back down to the saloon, where it’s warm.” Kate did not turn from the vista of gray, choppy water in front of her at her brother’s voice. The last fourteen days seemed as nothing to Christopher—a lark, an adventure, not the exile Kate knew it to be.
An exile that came with an edict: Find someone wealthy to marry.
“I do not see the point in sitting in the grand saloon, pretending as though everything is fine when I know it is not. I have no talent at pretense.” Kate wrapped her thick woolen shawl closer about her head and shoulders at a gust of icy wind. “If any of those other passengers knew we were being sent to England as poor relations, they would shun us.”
Just as everyone in Philadelphia had. Word of Graham Dearing’s financial misfortune spread like last summer’s great fire that consumed the Vine Street Wharf—quickly and with almost as much destructive force. Kate and Christopher’s stepmother had been too embarrassed to come down to the train station to see them off to New York two weeks ago—too afraid she would see someone she recognized on the street and not be acknowledged. Only Father had come with them to New York to say good-bye. And to remind Kate why she was being sent to her mother’s brother: to find and marry a fortune that would save their family. The memory of their argument on the platform before she joined Christopher to board the ship burned through her like the coal that powered them closer to her destiny.
“What’s wrong with enjoying the trappings of money while we can?” Christopher sidled up beside her and leaned his forearms against the top railing. “Besides, from Uncle Anthony’s letter, it doesn’t sound like he plans to treat us any differently than his own children, just because we’re ‘poor relations,’ as you put it.”
“But they’ll know. Sir Anthony and his daughters and whatever house staff they have—they’ll know that we’re completely dependent upon their charity. It will be written in their eyes every time they look at us. Every time we sit down at a meal with them. Every time they take us to a ball or party. We will be creating additional expense for them.” Kate trembled, not just from the cold.
You had no problem with our creating additional expense for Father when we lived at home. Why start worrying about it now?”
Kate finally turned to look—to gape—at her brother. Certainly he was younger than she, but only by three years. However, he was a qualified lawyer, a man full-grown at twenty-four years old. How could he speak so juvenilely? Did he not realize what Father and Maud had done to afford to send them abroad? Had he not noticed the missing paintings, carpets, and silver—sold so Father could afford their passage? Kate had a suspicion that much of their stepmother’s heirloom jewelry had met the same fate. Not to mention Father’s sacrifice of pride in begging his first wife’s brother, the baronet Sir Anthony Buchanan, to take them in.
Christopher’s light-brown eyes twinkled and danced. “Come on, Kate. I’ve heard that wealthy men can be plucked up on every corner in England, so you’ve nothing to worry about. They will take one look at you and be lining up at Uncle Anthony’s door to court you.”
Heat flared in her cheeks. “You can stop that nonsensical flattery right now, Christopher Dearing. It will get you nowhere.” But she couldn’t stop the smile that forced its way through her worry.
“It got me exactly what I wanted.” He put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze, then turned and forced her to walk back toward the stairs leading down to the grand saloon on the deck below. “We will be docking in a few hours, and you’ve been sulking the entire voyage. I insist you come below and enjoy yourself, just for a little while. Or pretend, on my account.”
Tiny snowflakes floated down and landed on Kate’s shawl and the mittened hand holding it to her chin. “Oh, all right. I will come. But only to get warm before we dock.”
It took her eyes several moments to adjust to the darkness of the stairwell. Reaching the grand saloon, Kate slowed and waited for Christopher to regain her side. Though not yet noon, the candles in the hanging lamps and wall sconces had been lit against the gloomy gray skies outside. The large, etched-glass columns in the middle of the room, which connected to the skylights above, brought in little light to reflect from the mirrors lining the walls between the doors to the sleeping cabins.
Several younger men, playing cards in the corner near the foot of the stairs, called out to Christopher, entreating him to come join the game.
He waved them off with a laugh and then offered Kate his arm. “Come, there are a few people who would like to speak to you.”
At the opposite end of the long room, partially hidden by one of the glass pillars from the card players near the stairs, sat a group of middle-aged women and a few men. The rest of the men, she assumed, were in the smoking room.
“Ah, here is your beloved sister, Mr. Dearing.” An older lady patted the seat of the settee beside her. “Do, come sit, Miss Dearing.” Mrs. Headington’s clipped British accent made Kate more nervous than she usually felt before strangers. That, and learning the woman had been governess to their cousins many years ago. Mrs. Headington was so particular and exacting, Kate worried she and Christopher would disappoint their extended family at every turn.
Kate removed her mittens and shawl and perched on the edge of the sofa. “Thank you, Mrs. Headington.”
“We were just speaking of the Great Exhibition.” The plump former governess waved a fan in front of her flushed, moist face, her more-than-ample bosom heaving against her straining bodice with each breath.
The Great Exhibition?” Kate folded the shawl and set it on her lap, where she rested her still-cold hands on it.
“Oh, Kate, I’ve told you all about it. Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition. It’s to be the largest display of industry and arts from all over the world.” Christopher’s eyes took on the same gleam as when he talked about laws governing the railroads. “Imagine—delegations are coming from as far as India, Algiers, and Australia and bringing displays of their industry and manufacturing, their artwork. Some are even bringing wild animals.”
He lost the dreamy expression for a moment. “And I have heard there will be agricultural exhibits, Kate. You may find some exotic plants for the garden.”
She smiled at the memory of her garden, her favorite place in the world—but melancholy and reality struck down the moment of joy. She might never see her garden again. For either she would marry some wealthy Englishman and stay in England for the rest of her life, or Father would be forced to sell the house.
Posted by Bonnie S. Calhoun at 11:55 PM
THOUGH IT WAS THE MIDDLE OF JUNE AND SUMMER WAS ALMOSTofficially upon them, the day itself seemed as drab and colorless as Lynn Myers’s shoulder-length hair before her Clairol touch-up, and she had no reason to believe that tomorrow would be any different, which for the most part suited her just fine. Sameness represented security to Lynn, and she thrived on it—even pursued it with passion. But opposites attract, as they say, and life with Daniel had contained little, if any, sameness from day to day.
However, Daniel was gone now, and Lynn instinctively had resorted to routine to carry her through. So far, it appeared to anyone who didn’t look too closely that her efforts had succeeded—until the day she returned from grocery shopping and spotted the official-looking letter protruding from the white metal mailbox on the outside wall next to her front door.
She snagged the envelope, along with three nondescript occupant offerings, on the way inside. Smiling, she offered a brief hello to her ten-year-old cocker spaniel, Beasley, who lay in his customary spot on the braided rug next to Lynn’s favorite chair. Beasley opened one eye and wagged his stub of a tail in greeting, and Lynn proceeded to the kitchen and set her groceries on the table. Still holding the envelope, she flipped it from front to back twice and even held it up to the light, as if she could determine its contents in the process. Why didn’t she just open it? She started to, several times, but instead decided to put her groceries away first. No sense deviating from her usual method of doing everything “decently and in order,” as the Bible dictated. But what was it about that envelope that jacked up her heart rate and dampened the palms of her hands?
Lynn’s aversion to change was nothing new. Born and raised in a small town where the annual Spring Fling Festival was the biggest event on the calendar, Lynn grew up believing she would always live in Bloomfield, surrounded by the same familiar friends and walking the same familiar streets. Then she met Daniel, a man too handsome for his own good—and hers, too, she’d been warned—but her heart hadn’t listened. And because Daniel was only in Bloomfield to visit relatives for the summer before returning to his home a few hundred miles away, eighteen-year-old Lynn had a decision to make.
Admittedly, she’d been torn. Her avoidance of change, combined with her loyalty to family and friends in Bloomfield, beckoned her to do the sensible thing and say good-bye to the good-looking young man who had blown in and out of town, capturing her heart in the process. But the letters and phone calls he sent her way once he returned home drew her in a way she’d been helpless to resist. She’d prayed, she’d worried, she’d even argued with herself. Why leave a perfectly good little town with nice people and comfortable surroundings to live in a sprawling metropolis of nearly 100,000 residents, none of whom she’d ever met? She wouldn’t even know which grocery store had the best bargains or the freshest meat, or which stoplights were preprogrammed and which could be tripped by the weight of a car idling in just the right spot. Why not continue to live at home and attend the nearby junior college, as she’d originally planned, and hope that one of the few sensible and eligible bachelors in town would one day notice her and pop the question so she wouldn’t have to make so many adjustments?
But ultimately she acted in a way many in Bloomfield had described as “completely out of character,” and she accepted Daniel’s romantic and urgent proposal of marriage, following him “to the ends of the earth.” When people asked her why—and many did—she simply told them she was in love. She’d known the moment her best friend introduced her to Daniel Myers on that bright June day less than a week after her high school graduation that her heart would never again be her own. And for some unimaginable reason, he felt the same about her. They met in the gentle heat of early summer and were married less than six months later, while the cold, harsh wind of winter blew outside the little church where their friends and family had gathered to wish them well and to place silent wagers on how long they would last.
Thirty-five years, Lynn thought as she reached to slide the new box of baking soda onto its proper place on the spice shelf. We lasted thirty-five years—and then You took him home, Lord. She sighed. I know You have a right, and I know You never make mistakes, and I’m grateful for the time we had together; truly I am. But, oh, Father, You know my heart. You know how much I miss him and wish we’d had just a few more years together.
Blinking away tears, she turned back to let her eyes settle on the old butcher block table in the middle of the room. That table had hosted so many family meals and discussions over the years, but it now appeared as lonely as Lynn felt. The envelope lay where she’d left it, right next to the final bag of groceries. Should she give in and open it? No, she’d finish her task and put away the last of her small purchases first.
She ignored the temptation to sit down and rest, something she never grappled with before Daniel died. Was this nagging sense of exhaustion part of her grief process? She’d heard somewhere that it could be, and since she was only in her midfifties and relatively healthy, why else would she feel this ongoing need to crawl into bed, pull the covers over her head, and just sleep?
She reached inside the bag, emptying the items one by one and placing them in a neat row before transporting them to a more permanent, predetermined spot where they would wait, neatly and quietly, until she needed them.
One loaf of whole wheat bread, which will last for a month if I keep it in the refrigerator. It wouldn’t have lasted a week if Daniel were still around and Rachel lived at home. She shook her head. They’re gone now, she reminded herself. Both of them. So finish what you’re doing and stop daydreaming. You’ll just end up crying again.
Posted by Bonnie S. Calhoun at 11:11 PM
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Are you ready to go back out on assignment?” The phone line crackled slightly on the last word, but he thought Jolene Davidson, senior editor for Around the World magazine, had said “assignment.”
Zane Carson sat up in a hurry. He’d been lounging on the couch watching reruns of Happy Days when he should have been at his physical therapy session. But he just wasn’t up to another round of incredibly boring exercises with the commando instructor. No sir, he just couldn’t do it again today. He’d been a little contemplative lately.
Okay, so he had been downright depressed. But who wouldn’t be? One bullet and his entire life had been put on hold. His entire life had changed. He’d been sent home, grounded, and for once he’d started to think about the future. His future. His and Monica’s.
“Of course I am,” he lied. But what better way to prove to everyone that he was ready to hit the red zone than jumping on the horse, so to speak?
“Are you sitting down?”
“As a matter of fact, I am.” Jo was always one for drama. If she weren’t such a wordsmith, she could have been an actress instead.
“Lay it on me.”
“Oklahoma Amish country.”
“Come again?” Surely he heard her wrong, because he thought she’d said—
“Oklahoma Amish country.”
He leaned forward. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about you . . . going to Oklahoma . . . and living among the Amish to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be part of such a community.”
“Jolene, I am a war correspondent. That means I cover wars.” He purposefully made his voice sound like he was talking to a fouryear-old. When would they accept that he was ready to go back out into the field? Maybe ready was a bad word, but he needed to get back out there, if only to prove that he could.
“Now, Carson, this is an important assignment—”
“Jolene, there aren’t many wars in Oklahoma, and there certainly aren’t any in Amish territory.”
“Whatever.” He flopped back on the sofa, then grimaced as he jarred his healing shoulder. “Aren’t they conscientious objectors?”
“You’ve been calling every day asking for an assignment.”
He hadn’t called today and look where that got him?
“Now they want to give you one. You can’t turn it down if you ever want to get back into the red zone.”
She was right. But . . . “Did you say Oklahoma?” Did they even have an Amish community? Why not Pennsylvania? Everybody knew about Lancaster County.
“Everybody knows about Lancaster County. We’re looking for something different—smaller settlement, tighter surrounding community. Alternate worship right there in the buckle of the Bible Belt.”
Zane didn’t know if he would call their manner of religion “alternate,” but what did he know about such things? He’d never been to church. His parents had preferred to worship nature and his uncle hadn’t had time for that sort of thing.
“I need you to do this for me.” Those quietly spoken words held a wealth of information. “You do this and I’ll make sure you get the Juarez assignment.”
“I thought Douglas was in Mexico.”
“He’s ready to come home, but he’s willing to stay until we can find a suitable replacement.”
Juarez, Mexico. Where innocent people died for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was dangerous, very dangerous, this war on drugs. And exactly where Zane wanted to be. Jo knew that, and she used that information to her advantage.
He sighed. “When do you want me there?”
“Day after tomorrow.”
That didn’t give him much time. Zane pushed his fingers through his hair. It needed a cut, but it seemed like even that would have to wait. At least he was going back to work. Sort of. He really didn’t consider an assignment like this work. How challenging could it be? Amish. Right. But with Mexico dangling in front of him, what choice did he have?
“You’ll fly Chicago to Tulsa. There’s a driver who will pick you up and take you to Clover Ridge. And . . .” she paused for dramatic effect. “I’ve arranged for you to stay with a host family.”
“Wait. What? Hold on.” Zane ran his hands down the legs of his faded jeans and tried to get a handle on the information she just dumped on him. “A driver? Why do I need a driver? What about a car?”
Posted by Bonnie S. Calhoun at 9:59 PM
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Thursday, March 28, 2013
The buzzing bothered her the most. No matter how many times she heard it, no matter the number of times she had seen what drew the insects, the sound still ate at the lining of her stomach.
“Cover him.” Carmen Rainmondi frowned and turned away, giving no outward indication of the discomfort within. Was she losing her edge?
A uniformed officer stood to her right. Tall and lanky, he looked too young to shave. He also looked a little green around the gills. “You don’t want to wait for the rest of the team?” He followed the words with a hard swallow.
Carmen gave the officer a glance, then shook her head. “It’s a public place. It won’t be long before parents will be walking by with their children. I don’t want letters telling the chief how we scarred their kids for life. Now are you going to cover him or do you want to jaw about it some more?”
“Got it. No problem.” He trotted toward one of the blackand- whites, its emergency lights tossing splashes of red and blue in the air. Carmen noticed that he moved with care, following the same path out that they had taken in.
At least the newbie got that right.
She forced herself to face the body again. Face down, arms and legs askew, the victim looked as if he had fallen from a lowflying airplane. She could see he was young. He wore only a pair of brown shorts—no shoes, no shirt, no cap. The same dew that covered the grass dampened the body and clung to his hair. There were no signs of gunshot or knife wounds, but she could see a series of dried blood drops covering his back and the one side of his face she could examine.
Studying the shorts, Carmen saw what she hoped to see: a bulge in the right rear pocket. With a latex-gloved hand she removed the wallet, which felt thin and light. Right pocket; righthanded. Nothing earthshaking in that realization, but details mattered. Sometimes the little things turned the whole case.
Like the officer before her, Carmen carefully retraced her steps and ducked beneath the yellow crime-scene tape that cordoned off a quarter-acre of ground. The smell of eucalyptus trees mixed with the perfume of a dozen different flowering plants followed her. The sun crawled up the blue San Diego sky on the same journey it had made millions of times before.
Many considered Balboa Park one of the most beautiful places in the city and Carmen agreed. She spent a summer of her college years working at the historic park. As part of her training, her employers pounded some of the park’s history into her brain. She knew more about the fourteen-hundred-acre area—complete with quaint cottages, spectacular Spanish Colonial buildings, museums, and stage theaters—than those living nearby.
The park was the jewel in the Chamber of Commerce’s crown. Having a badly beaten body lying on emerald grass dulled the gem.
“I used to love this place.”
The words snatched Carmen from her thoughts. “Huh?”
“Wool gathering, Detective?” Bud Tock had come up behind her. Tock worked homicide too, and they were often teamed together. He would be the number-two detective on the case.
“Yeah, I guess I was. I used to work here.”
“In the park or at the Botanical Building?” He motioned to the long, wide, wood-lathe structure with a rounded trellis for a roof.
“I worked at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. They have a gift shop. Those were some slow hours.”
“I’ll bet.” He paused as he looked beyond the cordoning tape. “Did you take a peek?”
Tock stood tall, lean, and somehow managed to look younger than his fifty-one years. Unlike many men his age, his dark hair had not deserted him, but it yielded to spreading gray. Carmen at forty-six, however, fought a relentless battle against a broadening waist and the appearance of new wrinkles. She did her best to look sharp, professional, and just attractive enough, but she wondered whether a day would come when she just quit caring about such things. Her brown hair showed a tint of red in the sunlight. It always had.
She let her eyes linger on Tock for a moment, like a dieter eyeing a piece of cheesecake, but those thoughts cinched closed. They had history, she and Tock. They had been an item. It began five years ago and ended with brutal honesty thirty days later. Every time she thought of that month she felt the bitterest pleasure and the sweetest regret. Three months later he married another woman. It was his third marriage. She had yet to have one.
“I asked if you took a peek. You okay?”
“I’m fine. Didn’t sleep well last night. Too much caffeine or something.” The lie came easily. “I’m having the body covered. Too many civilian eyes around here. Or there will be soon.”
“We probably have an hour before the crowds arrive. At least it’s Thursday, not a weekend. What have we got?”
“Male, white, young, maybe early twenties. My best guess is he’s been dead for six hours or so. I’ll let the ME give us a better estimate on time.”
Tock pursed his lips. “So someone did him in the wee hours? Three or four a.m.?”
“I think we should close the grounds to the public. The Botanical Building is a pretty big draw. I also suggest we have a couple of officers tape off the walkways.” He paused. “That is, if it’s okay with you. You’re lead dog on this sled.”
“Lead dog? I see you still know how to sweet-talk a woman.”
“My wife won’t let me sweet-talk other ladies. She says it just breaks their hearts.” He pointed at the object in her hand. “Is that his wallet?”
Posted by Bonnie S. Calhoun at 10:53 PM
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Posted by Bonnie S. Calhoun at 11:04 PM