Romantic Mystery Novel

Shadows Fall

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.

Barbara W. Klaser, romatic mystery and whodunit author, photo from 1970s

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Shadows Fall cover art, whodunit, romantic mystery novel

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50

Chapter 11

Matt parked in front of Owen's garage and approached the repair bay in the deepening dusk. Owen stood wiping hand cleaner off his hands with a blue paper towel, about to lock up his tools for the day. He turned when Matt approached. "What's up?" Owen said.

"Have much work?" Matt asked, looking around.

"Why, you need a job?"

"No, I start med school soon. You know that."

Owen shook his head. "You're really going to do it?"

"Sure. What have you been up to today?"

"This and that. Pumping gas mostly. One brake job, two oil changes. Dull day in dullsville." Owen pulled a beer out of his mini-fridge. "Want one?"

"No thanks, I have dinner with my mom soon."

"Huh. You live in a whole different world, Gray." He twisted off the bottle cap.

"Guess so." Matt glanced around the shop again. They were alone. The garage was dirty, grimy with what looked like decades of black grease. It smelled of dirty motor oil and carburetor cleaner.

"How's your sister?"

Matt hesitated. How could he ask what he needed to ask? Owen was his friend. "Vicky?"

"No, the dangerous one. Beth."

"Not so great. Someone locked her and her little girl in the bike-shed today."

"No shit?" Owen looked genuinely surprised, his beer bottle poised midway to his mouth. "Who do you suppose did that?"

Matt shrugged. "Same person who always did it, I guess. This time they went after Abby too."

"I bet everyone's ticked off about the kid. Even Vicky."

"I told Beth what you told me, Owen, about Ollie not being the one who locked her up all those times."

"Will she talk to me?"

"Why do you want to talk to her?" Matt watched Owen's face. His toffee-brown eyes were wide.

"Private reason." Owen looked away. "I heard she drove into town in a big white Mercedes."

"Where'd you hear that?"

"One of Vicky's friends. Is it true?"

"Yeah. A new one, by the look of it." Matt thought about the red paint spelling out MURDERER on her car.

"What does she do to make that kind of money?" Owen took another swallow of his beer.

"She doesn't talk about it."

"Huh. Maybe she took up a life of crime while she was inside. Say, do you think if Ollie were here today she could still tell us apart, the way she used to?"

Owen's tanned face was smudged with grease, his brown sun-streaked hair rumpled and badly cut. His brown-gold eyes were watchful again, the whites standing out against his tan and the grease. At twenty-nine, he was no longer the sweet natured kid who used to follow his more aggressive twin everywhere. Something had happened to Owen.

"Who knows?" Matt said with a shrug. "We've all changed."

"Will you tell her I want to talk to her?"

"I'll tell her, but I doubt she'll talk to you unless she knows why first, probably not even then. So do you want to tell me why, or just forget the whole thing?"

"I want to ask her why—" Owen broke off, took a long swallow of his beer, sloshed a little, and the hoppy smell of it wafted over. Matt was getting the feeling it wasn't his first beer today. "I want to know why she tried to kill herself, and I want to know why she confessed, after six years. Why'd she wait so long?"

"I know why she did that. I'll tell you."

"I don't want you to tell me. I want her to tell me."

"Why?"

"Just tell her, will you?"

"Sure, I'll tell her. So ... you were here all day? You didn't come up to our place at all?"

"No, I told—" Owen broke off, seeing through Matt's words. "Why, you fucking son-of-a-bitch. Get out of my garage!"

"Look, it was me or Duane. He was on his way here to question you himself. I convinced him to let me talk to you instead."

"Get out. Go home to your dinner, your mom and your precious fucking murdering sister. Go on!" Owen threw his beer bottle and it shattered on the cement floor at Matt's feet. The smell of the spilled beer, mingled with the other odors in the garage, followed Matt out the bay door.

Matt turned as he walked. "Why'd you lie, Owen?"

"Get the hell out!"

Matt turned fully to face Owen, walking backward toward his truck. He shook his finger at him. "You lied in court, and you lied to me, didn't you? You didn't see Beth shoot Ollie!" He turned toward his truck again and kept going, listening.

Silence followed him. He reached his truck, opened the door and looked back. Owen stood still, staring at Matt, silent. Matt got into his truck. He'd just closed the door when Owen rushed toward him. Matt rolled the window down a few inches.

"You tell her, Gray. Tell her I want to talk to her!"

"I'll tell her." He started the engine and was backing out.

"She killed my brother!" Owen slammed his fist down on the front fender of Matt's truck.

"Don't dent my truck, Owen."

Owen spoke in a low, strangled voice. "Get out of here before I take a tire iron to it."

Matt drove away, shaken but finally feeling that he had some answers. Owen's silences said more than his words.

***

Duane returned after dinner and met with Beth and Matt in the library. Beth sat at the end of the oak table, her face expressionless, her manner cool, reminding Matt of his mother.

"Okay, Matt, shoot," Duane said.

Matt placed his hands flat on the table and described his visit with Owen, while Beth returned his look, her face placid.

"Was anyone working with him today?" Duane asked.

"Didn't look like it, but he must've had customers. I don't think it was him, Duane. It's hard to believe he'd think to clean that shed, for one thing. You should see his shop."

"Did he say why he wants to talk to Beth?"

Matt met Beth's gaze again. "He wants to ask why you tried to kill yourself, and he wants to know why you confessed after six years. Do you want to talk to him?"

She shook her head. "I don't owe him any explanations." She glanced at Duane. "Does everyone here know about my ... confession?" She appeared to hate the taste of the word.

"Tom Stevens ensured the sheriff was aware of it, and word got around," Duane said.

Beth looked down at her hands.

"I asked Owen why he lied at your trial," Matt said. "All I got was silence. He didn't deny lying."

"Do you think he's a danger to Beth or Abby?" Duane asked.

"How do you know who's a danger? There's some nut around here who does housecleaning in sheds and plays with dolls."

Duane turned to Beth. "About the doll, Beth. I don't know what organza and tulle are. I'd ask you to draw a picture of it if your hand—" He eyed the sling.

"I'm left-handed, remember? I'll run upstairs for materials." She headed for the door.

Duane waited until she closed the door. He wore a pained expression. "Vicky told Holly Beth woke up screaming in the night."

Matt nodded. "Every night since she's been here."

"How does she seem to you?"

"Except for the nightmares, too quiet. How does she seem to you?"

"When I'm in uniform, she looks at me like I'm a snake shedding skin."

Matt grinned. "Perfectly understandable."

"I'm serious. She was relieved to leave the room just now. Watch when she comes back. She stays as far away from me as she can without being rude. Maybe it's prison that does that. Creates a permanent loathing for cops, for the uniform. At least she hasn't passed it on to her kid."

He was silent then, studying Matt for a minute. "When did you change your mind about Beth?"

Matt rubbed his face. "I never wanted to believe she did it. I never stopped caring about her. She used to write me these letters when she was in jail. Homesick, lonely kind of letters, you know? Then, today was the first time she told me she didn't kill Ollie. Owen confirmed it for me when I confronted him about lying in court. I know now that he lied, Duane. I know him. The way he just looked at me when I asked him.... But I don't understand why." Matt glanced at his brother-in-law. "Duane, how come you never questioned her confession? You arrested her."

Duane made a face. "That wasn't a confession, that was desperation."

Beth returned with a sketchbook and colored pencils, and went to work. The two men watched the image of the doll take shape on paper. She worked quickly and in surprising detail. Within minutes she tore out the page and handed it to Duane, who wore a dumbfounded look.

"It's not my best work, but you'll know the doll if you see it." She sounded doubtful, and she flipped the previous pages of the sketchbook back as she spoke.

Matt watched, and shot his hand out to stop her. "Wait. May I see that?"

It was the drawing of Peter landing a trout on the lakeshore. Beth released her hold on the sketchbook, and Matt slid it nearer, turning it around. "Look at this, Duane."

Duane looked, then grinned at Beth. "How'd you get the fish to sit still?"

She smiled and said nothing, her gaze on the page.

Matt flipped the page and found the other picture of Peter, in the cemetery. "Did he know you were drawing this?"

Beth shook her head. "I did it from memory, the following day. The fishing scene is from Saturday."

"You mean you can do something this detailed, from memory, of anything you see?" Matt didn't recall her even drawing when she'd lived at home. Just sewing and knitting, and spending a lot of time with their father, learning how to run the Lodge.

"Things that catch my attention. Things I really look at."

Matt looked at her with new respect. "I'll have to be careful how I act around you. You don't miss much.

"Why'd you draw Peter?" Duane asked.

It was innocent curiosity, but Beth colored, obviously flustered.

"Must've stuck in her mind," Matt said casually, rising from his chair. "Are we done?"

"For now." Duane picked up the drawing of the doll, shrugged on his jacket and headed for the door. Beth and Matt followed and Duane held the door for them. "No promises, Beth. There's not a lot to go on."

***

Beth woke with a start, but not from a nightmare. A sound had wakened her. She lay still, watching the darkness. Someone moved out in the hallway. Beth got out of bed, went to the door, opened it and searched the hallway in both directions. She heard a faint noise on the west stairs opposite her.

The sheer drapes on the windows at each end of the hall filtered a faint gray illumination from outdoors. Nothing moved. There was no sound except her heartbeat gradually slowing while her eyes strained into the darkness.

Then she heard a sound on the stairs right in front of her, unmistakable and familiar. Something thudded onto one wooden step after another as it went, sometimes skipping a step, down the stairs. She moved to the head of the stairs, leaned over with one hand gripping the railing, and peered down. A hall light at the foot of the stairs illuminated the fuzzy yellow tennis ball as it dropped off the last step and rolled into the kitchen.

At a rustling noise behind her, Beth flew into her room, closed and locked the door behind her.

She sat on the edge of her bed in the darkness, stifling frightened sobs. Tears of grief for a lost time, when she'd wandered boldly outdoors on summer nights, as a girl, and had laughed at herself for the alarm a cat roused, batting a tennis ball down the stairs.

How different this house was, full of real shadows, not just those she remembered in nightmares. That was no house cat who played with a ball in the dark tonight. It was a person, whose intent was to intimidate her, threaten her, terrify her.

She searched for Peter's card on her nightstand. She phoned the printed number for his cabin. His line rang four times before his machine answered, then his message played, professional and businesslike. She felt more alone than ever. When the message ended she almost hung up. Then she glanced at his hastily written cellular number, and couldn't make out whether two of the digits were sevens, ones, or nines.

"It's Beth," she said quickly. "I can't read your handwriting. I picked a hell of a time to finally call. It's Wednesday night—no, one-forty-five Thursday morning. I'm—having a disturbing night." She paused to clear the tearful, tremulous sound out of her voice, trying not to feel let down. Peter couldn't know she would need him tonight. "At least I didn't waken you."

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Copyright (c) 2001 Barbara W. Klaser. All rights reserved

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