Romantic Mystery Novel
a whodunit by Barbara W. Klaser
|There's a little bit of sleuth in everyone....
Shadows Fall is a romantic mystery set in an old, closed mountain resort in the Sierra Nevada of California.
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|Please note, Shadows Fall is no longer in print. The sample chapters provided here are only provided as an example of the author's writing.
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO
Tom Stevens' property, on the east-facing slope of Wilder Mountain, shared a boundary with the twenty-thousand or so acres of northern Sierra forest the Grays owned, which included Wilder Mountain Lodge and Shadow Lake on the west slope. The barest hint of a breeze stirred Tom's trees on this hot summer night, just enough to fool one into thinking it was cooler outdoors.
Sheriff Les Kendall waited on Tom Stevens' pea-gravel driveway for his deputies. Duane Prescott arrived last, well after the other two. He walked up to the three of them in the moonlight and stood with his hands on his hips. He was nineteen, with a stocky build and a square-shaped face, an immature mustache and a thick head of straight brown hair. His blue eyes seldom opened wide enough to let you get a grip on their true color. His uniform appeared shrugged on. "Why'd you call me, Sheriff?"
"Because we need a young mind, and you're the youngest." The other two snickered, and Les glanced at them. They shut up. "Where do the twins go on their midnight jaunts their father thinks they never take? Do you know?"
Duane didn't even have to think about it. "They swim in a pool in Carter's Creek, about halfway to the Lodge. It's on Gray property, so they don't tell their dad."
"Tom says Beth Gray threatened Ollie."
Duane cracked a grin. "Not likely."
"Tom thinks she's unstable, and there have been rumors."
"Gossip, Sheriff. She's had a tough time since her dad died. Her fiancé's out of the country, and she goes off to college herself next month. She's spending a quiet summer working at the Lodge."
"Ollie still up to his pranks?"
The front door of the house opened. Duane looked that way and nodded. "He locked her in the bathroom of a cabin she was cleaning two weeks ago. She was stuck for hours. She can't stand that, Sheriff. She avoids Ollie."
"Check the boys' room while I talk to Tom, then we'll head to the swimming pool. If we find those two having a moonlight dip, maybe I'll join them. Damn, it's hot!"
The other deputies checked outside the windows and doors for signs of a forced entry. Minutes later, when Duane emerged from the house, Les motioned him aside. "Find anything?"
"No sign of a break-in." Duane frowned at the house. "One boy's bed looks slept in, the other doesn't."
Duane shook his head, but he looked unsettled. Les watched him a few more seconds, wondering what was up. Then he decided the kid was just sleepy. Either that or Tom Stevens wasn't the housekeeper Duane's mother was.
Les turned and motioned to the others. "Okay, let's go. Maybe the uniforms will scare them out of worrying their dad this way again."
The moon was full, which made walking easy until they reached the woods. They used flashlights to follow a deer track through dense trees and undergrowth along the bank of the creek. Halfway to the clearing and the swimming pool, the oak woods opened out and the trail lay exposed, dappled by moonlight.
A gunshot cracked the still of the night, echoing off nearby hills.
The men continued at a faster pace, caution in their eyes, hands on their sidearms.
Another shot shook the air. A minute later the beams of their flashlights caught a swift movement through the trees in their direction. One of the Stevens twins came toward them at a run. "He's been shot!" The whites of his eyes shone in the moonlight.
"Who's been shot?" Les grasped the breathless boy's shoulder. "Where?"
"My brother." The youth twisted out of his grasp and bolted back through the trees.
Les ran after him, shouting for him to wait. Near the clearing, moonlight filtered more brightly through the sparser trees. They heard a shout, followed instantly by a high pitched cry and a third shot. Les and his men pulled their revolvers and broke through the brush along the south side of the clearing.
"She shot him!" The boy stood panting and sobbing at the edge of the woods, staring into the moonlit clearing, where his twin lay on the ground.
A flashlight lay beside the fallen boy, extinguished. Beth Gray stood near his feet, her arms at her sides. In one hand she gripped a semi-automatic pistol. She stared at the four men who aimed revolvers at her. Her luminous eyes looked black in the moonlight, the eyes of a cornered doe ready to dart away.
"Put the gun on the ground, Beth," Les said. "Carefully."
She looked at it as if seeing it for the first time; then she placed it on the ground. As she straightened, Duane Prescott moved to her side and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Duane," she said faintly, and went into his arms like a pliant child.
Les moved to the boy on the ground, knelt beside him, tilted his head back and listened for breath. Instead he heard only the flies that had already gathered. He felt for a pulse, while his nose told him he wouldn't find one. Then he took a look at the boy's eyes with his flashlight.
"He's dead, isn't he." The sibilant sound of the girl's whisper carried on the still air.
The boy had been shot in the chest, and there was a gaping wound in his left forearm. A pair of woolen knit gloves was tucked into his belt.
Les looked at his watch, pulled out a notebook and recorded the time. Then he turned to the girl.
She wore shorts, and sneakers with no socks. Her T-shirt was tied in a knot at the waist. She looked as graceful as a deer, with long, lean legs. Les recalled thinking when she was a little girl that Beth Gray would grow into a beauty, and she had. She had a vital kind of allure that was both sexy and high-minded at once. She was the kind of girl a man wanted to touch but didn't dare, in spite of the rumors that she'd allow any male to touch her. Gossip, and those weren't the only rumors. She was seventeen, two years younger than Les's daughter Nora. Homecoming queen, valedictorian. Murderer? Les suppressed a shudder.
The twins' father stood at the edge of the clearing, staring at the dead boy. When the surviving twin put his arms around his father, Tom appeared to waken out of a daze. He held the boy for a few seconds before he went over and knelt by his dead son. "Ollie?" Tom's voice was hollow with disbelief. He nudged the dead boy's shoulder as if trying to rouse him.
"I'm sorry, Tom." Les moved to his side. "I can't let you touch him." He drew him away. Then Les turned to the other boy. "Are you Owen?"
The boy nodded.
"Whose gun is it, Owen? Do you know?" The pistol on the ground, a mother-of-pearl-handled semi-automatic, looked familiar to Les.
"She had it." Owen pointed at the girl.
Les turned. "Beth?"
"It's my father's," she said so faintly it was almost a whisper. She still stared at the dead boy, and she still clung to Duane.
"How did the gun get here, Beth?"
She blinked at Les, dark eyes wide, then she looked at the dead boy again.
"She shot him," the other twin wailed. "I saw, Dad."
Tom lunged at the girl. "You murdering whore!"
Les and two deputies pulled him away, while Tom fought them, determined to get at Beth. She clung to Duane like a drowning man to a life preserver.
"Take her to the station," Les said, reaching for his radio. It would be a half-hour before he could get more deputies out here.
"Sheriff, she didn't do this," Duane argued. "Beth wouldn't hurt anyone. Look, she's scared. Let me take her home."
"Take her in I said, Prescott."
Duane looked at the others, at Tom Stevens, then at Beth. "Come on, Beth." He led her away by the arm. Tom Stevens' torrent of obscenities followed the silent girl and the deputy out of the clearing.
"Mirandize her," Les called. "Follow procedure. And call her mother!"
Beth's mind labored out of the opaque white mist it had been lost in since Ollie—no, Owen—had come crashing through the brush and startled her, before all those uniformed men pointed revolvers at her, including, for an instant, Duane.
She focused on Duane's voice repeating words she knew from too many movies and television. She paused and looked at him. "Duane?"
"Let me finish, Beth. I have to do my job," he said and continued.
She kept walking, with Duane's hand on her arm. She didn't know this part of the trail as well, and she was glad he had a flashlight, because she'd dropped hers somewhere. The trees created a dark tunnel in front of them, lit by patches of moonlight. She tried to think about where she stepped, instead of what had happened and where they were going. This couldn't be happening. Ollie couldn't be dead. Just today he had pushed her into the lake and laughed with her sister Vicky about it.
The white mist hovered, threatening to engulf her. No, she had to think.
Duane stopped her at his truck, near the Stevens' house. "What's that in your pocket?" He made her empty the pockets of her shorts. She pulled the tennis ball out and handed it to him.
"What are you doing with a tennis ball in your pocket?" Duane looked like he didn't know what to do with her.
"Can I go home now?" Beth dared to hope this was another bad dream, just like all the other nightmares she had. She could be asleep at home, having a new nightmare, from which she'd waken, crying or screaming. Tomorrow Ollie would come looking for Vicky to go swimming with him. He wasn't really dead.
"No, Beth," Duane said. "The sheriff wants to talk to you. This looks bad. You understand that, don't you?"
The white mist threatened again, and she wanted to lose herself in it. But this was important. She wasn't dreaming. "Are you sure he's dead? Maybe—"
"Beth, don't say anything. I'm going to call your mom. She can get you a lawyer. Anything you say to me now, I have to tell the sheriff, understand? Did you understand what I said when I read you your rights?"
She stared at him. "You're still my friend, aren't you Duane?"
"I'm still your friend. Get in the truck. I have to take you to the station. Your mom will come see you there."
He held the door open. The cab of his truck was small and dark. Beth backed away. Her breath came quickly, one breath upon the last, and her pulse pounded in her ears. A scream like that of a small child trapped inside her wanted out. Holding it in made her feel sick.
Duane's hand pressed against her back. "The window's open, Beth. You can sit by the open window."
She looked at Duane.
"It's just my truck, Beth. You've ridden in my truck before."
She got in. Both side windows were open. Duane closed her door and she held her face close to the open window, where the moonlight caressed her cheek, a silver gauze that softened the hard darkness of the night. Duane got into the driver's seat and opened the sliding rear window. A delicious breath of air touched the back of Beth's neck.
"All the windows are open."
She held her face near the open window.
Duane closed his door, and Beth jumped at the sound. She felt his gaze on her. She didn't want to think what he wondered. She concentrated on the moonlight and the night sky. It could be Gabriel beside her, taking her on a moonlight drive. They could be leaving on their honeymoon, starting a new life. Everything would be different after this.
Duane put the truck in gear and moved it slowly down the length of the driveway. On the road, where he could easily have turned to the Lodge and driven her home, he steered instead toward the town in the valley. Beth prayed silently, over and over. Don't let this happen. Please don't let this happen!
When she and Duane walked into the sheriff's station, a female deputy met them. "Sheriff called, Duane. He wants you back out there, pronto. I'll help you process her." She grasped Beth's arm firmly as she spoke. Then she glanced at Duane. "You didn't use cuffs?"
Beth's fear took control. She pleaded, and cried. She didn't care about anything in that moment but her freedom. Tears streamed down her face, and her convulsive sobs made her words unintelligible even to herself. She screamed.
The ringing of the phone in the dead of night wakened everyone at the Lodge but three-year-old Rita. They'd slept with their doors open, because it was hot and the Lodge didn't take paying guests anymore, so privacy wasn't a concern.
Matt Gray, eleven years old, had the room next to his mother's, and he was the first out of bed. He went to his mother's door and listened. Only bad news came with a phone call in the middle of the night.
"What?" his mother said. Matt knew, by the sharp staccato of the single word, that something was very wrong. He stepped into the room, and his thirteen-year-old sister Vicky followed. Vicky had stopped to put on a robe. Matt wore only his boxers.
"That's impossible," their mother was saying into the phone. Then, more quietly, not out of calmness but disbelief, "She's here, I just spoke to her before she—" She put her hand over the phone. "Matt, see if Beth's in her room."
Matt ran into his sister's room, switched on the light and looked around. Beth's bed sheets were tossed, and her robe lay across the foot of her bed, but she was nowhere in sight. He checked the bathroom, then ran back to his mother's room. "She's not there."
"She doesn't take them anymore," Matt's mother was saying into the phone, "Not since her father died. Tell her I'm on my way, Duane. Talk to her. Please don't leave her alone." She put the phone down and moved from the bed to the closet faster than Matt had ever seen his mother move.
"What's wrong, Mom?" Jack came into the room behind Matt and Vicky. He was their second oldest brother, twenty-one years old. He towered over his younger siblings, with the voice of an adult, wearing a light cotton bathrobe, his hair wet from the shower.
"Beth's been arrested," Emily said, her voice under taught control. She began pulling clothes out of her closet. She peeled off her nightgown, and Matt felt torn between looking away and watching. His mother had never revealed herself to him before.
"Arrested? For what?" Jack wore a big grin, as though envious of his younger sister going out and having some real fun, without him.
"They think she shot Ollie Stevens. He's been killed."
Vicky gasped, and Matt looked at her. Her face was a mask of shock. "She really did it!" Vicky cried, and ran sobbing out of the room.
"Vicky?" Emily called after her. "What is she saying? Jack, stay with the younger ones and keep them calm. Wake Cornell."
Emily pulled on one of her schoolteacher dresses, over the pantyhose she'd dragged on so quickly she'd punched a hole in them with her thumb. She hadn't even noticed.
Matt hadn't dreamed Beth meant what she said today about killing Ollie. The first threat had been a joke. She'd laughed, and so had Matt, when he'd found her with their Dad's gun in her hand and she said she was going to shoot someone. The second threat had been the impulse of a moment's anger after being shoved into the lake. Beth wouldn't really do something that brainless, that heartless. She wouldn't suddenly turn violent. Not even against Ollie.
"Jack, you look so much like your father," their mother said. "Please be like him now. Help me. Cornell knows lawyers. She'll need a good lawyer. Zip me up, dear. My hands are shaking. Call Dr. Rayborne and have him come to the Sheriff's Office in Wilder. Tell him it's an emergency, that Beth's been arrested. She's in jail, and she's ... not herself. She needs a sedative."
Jack zipped her dress, then ruffled his damp, wavy red hair as he sat on the foot of the bed. Emily slipped her feet into shoes and picked up her purse. She hadn't combed her hair and she had no makeup on, but she looked nice, kind of like she was going off to church, except for the huge run in her pantyhose.
"Mom?" Matt grasped her arm. "Can I go with you?"
She hugged him. "Matt, of course you can't come. Look at you, standing here in your shorts. Go put your robe on. You're to stay here and listen to Jack and Cornell. They're in charge."
Peter Lloyd's young wife Claire pored over the morning newspaper. She read it every morning, and it always upset her.
"Look at this," she said now. "This seventeen-year-old girl killed a fourteen-year-old boy with her father's handgun, because he'd played some practical jokes on her and pushed her into a lake the previous day. She'd just graduated from high school with honors, and now she's thrown her whole life away. Look at her!"
Claire caught Peter sneaking two-year-old Emery a bite of pancake. "And stop feeding him that garbage. You poured a gallon of syrup on it." She pushed the paper in front of him.
Peter didn't see it. He watched Claire's eyes light up in response to his look. A slow smile appeared on her face. She shook her head at him.
"Come here." He dragged her chair closer to his. "Why do you want to start your day off that way?"
"It makes more sense than reading the same fishing magazine every morning. You don't have time to fish, Peter."
"That's why I read this. It's fishing meditation, a mini-vacation, before I go off to study serious medicine."
"Peter, look at her. There's something about her that makes me want to cry. It says she was homecoming queen."
Peter brushed Claire's cheek with his hand as he touched her blonde hair.
"She would've started college next month, now she'll spend the rest of her life in jail."
"There's not a thing I can do about it, Claire." He kissed her, and Emery squealed with laughter.
"Look at her." Claire pushed the newspaper in front of Peter and squirmed out of his grasp.
He looked at the newspaper, and the face in the photograph snagged his attention. He kept looking, trying to figure out where he'd seen the girl before.
Meanwhile Claire grabbed her tote bag and purse and kissed Emery. "Bye-bye, sweetheart. Be good. Daddy will pick you up at daycare. I have a doctor's appointment. Don't forget, Peter." She went out the door.
Peter finally looked up, but Claire was gone. "Why does she have a doctor's appointment?" he asked Emery, who only laughed at him.
Peter studied the picture of the girl, and read the article twice. What would drive a girl like her to kill? "I know you, but I've never met you," he said softly. "Explain that, Elizabeth Gray."
Without any reason but curiosity, he fetched the kitchen scissors and clipped the article before putting the paper in the recycle bin.
Home | Shadows Fall | Sample Chapters | Purchase
|All characters and events in the novels on this website are fictitious. They are solely products of the author's imagination. Any similarity to real persons or events is purely coincidental.|
Copyright (c) 2001 Barbara W. Klaser. All rights reserved