Dying on Edisto

Dying on Edisto

C. Hope Clark

March 2019 $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-942-1

The Edisto Island Mysteries, Book 5

Our PriceUS$17.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

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One death. Two detectives. And unexpected backup.
A Callie Morgan and Carolina Slade crossover! (A standalone mystery)

When a renowned—and now dead—travel blogger washes ashore on the banks of Indigo Plantation, Police Chief Callie Morgan of Edisto Beach agrees to head the investigation as a favor to the county sheriff, whose reasons are as questionable as the death itself.

When death turns to murder and a watchdog from the county makes her investigation difficult, Callie reluctantly turns to Carolina Slade and Wayne Largo, vacationing agents with the Department of Agriculture. Because poison is growing on this plantation, and someone knows how to use it well.

C. HOPE CLARK has a fascination with the mystery genre and is author of the Carolina Slade Mystery Series as well as the Edisto Island Mysteries, both set in her home state of South Carolina. In her previous federal life, she performed administrative investigations and married the agent she met on a bribery investigation. She enjoys nothing more than editing her books on the back porch with him, overlooking the lake, with bourbons in hand. She can be found either on the banks of Lake Murray or Edisto Beach with one or two dachshunds in her lap. Hope is also editor of the award-winning FundsforWriters.com.


"Page-turning...[and] edge-of-your-seat action...crisp writing and compelling storytelling. This is one you don't want to miss!"

—Carolyn Haines, USA Today bestselling author


"Her beloved protagonist, Callie, continues to delight readers as a strong, savvy, and a wee-bit-snarky police chief.”

—Julie Cantrell, NY Times and USA Today bestselling author


"Ms. Clark delivers a riveting ride, with her irrepressible characters set squarely in the driver's seat."
-Dish Magazine on Echoes of Edisto


Chapter 1


A BEAD OF SWEAT rolled down her back as Edisto Beach Chief Callie Morgan drove her patrol SUV down Pine Landing Road, grip damp on the wheel, eyes straight ahead if not slanted to the right. Away from that patch of dirt she’d have to pass.

A beautiful road to a tourist, or a naïve resident who hadn’t kept up with current events. Dripping moss off live oaks. A deerstand here or there attesting to the wealth of wildlife. Sun flittering through the silent canopy. Humidity making the air dense enough to drink, and with a salty flavor. Typical South Carolina Lowcountry. Typical Sea Island August weather.

The allure she was supposed to appreciate.

But a hundred yards ahead stood the haunting section of road that ignited a bass drum beat in her heart. But guilt kept her from racing past. She deserved the pain of penance.

She hadn’t been down Pine Island Road since that night Seabrook lay bleeding out, when she’d emptied her Glock into the guy responsible. Too late to save a man she’d just come to love. Foot off the gas, she eased past the place where bodies littered the roadside last October. But her mission today lay at the end of the road, not here, so she told herself to look ahead instead of behind. In more ways than one.

Pulse loud in her ears, she finally reached her destination. She had a lunchtime date long overdue but felt no hunger. She was meeting Raysor, whose patrol car she saw parked two rows from the front.

Fifty-plus cars were strewn across the grassy five acres of lawn, some wedging between trees and flora into the tangle of wetland jungle that skirted the property. No room for her vehicle at first blush, so she drove on past the renovated plantation house turned bed and breakfast.

She’d heard the owners had spared no expense for the inaugural Indigo Festival on Edisto Island held in the run-down plantation home brought back to life, and they apparently hit the ball out of the park. Like her, a dozen vehicles trolled for parking. That freshly established grass wouldn’t last long with business like this.

Folks all the way to Charleston were a-twitter over this place. Callie’d heard the owners had drawn heavy traffic last week as well, even before this week’s official Indigo Festival, and in spite of the late summer heat. Kudos to them. Edisto could stand to have more quality tourist attractions sans dolphin floats and octopus beach blankets.

Deep-pocket outsiders were learning to love this island, craving to feel at home alongside the natives, and this fresh influx of folks couldn’t help but bring affluence with them. A sweet and sour impact. At least Indigo had been careful finding a balance between preserving history and earning a dollar—a fine line the island had danced on since agri­cultural life fled the island decades ago.

Too bad making things appear old-fashioned and genuine took so much money.

A pair of women walked right in front of her vehicle, and Callie braked hard. They didn’t even notice; their attention stuck on the milieu awaiting them two hundred feet ahead. Callie eased forward, allowing them their distraction.

The old house’s architectural detail was jaw-dropping both in the old house and the addition. The wide sprawling field of the plantation’s namesake indigo grew right up to the processing barn, a plant she’d never seen. Presumably they’d hired some farmer from Tennessee to extract that blue hue from green leaves and attempt to recreate a crop that served Edisto farmers well centuries ago. The venue sold clothing and scarves colored with the results in the gift shop. Yeah, she’d read the brochures.

Impatient, Callie made a slot for herself outside the cordoned area against the house and switched the ignition off. Hiding inside the cool car, her pulse remained amped. Deep breath. Local law enforcement shouldn’t appear all agitated and off kilter. With fingertips, she softly rubbed her chest as if soothing the back of a child.

Watch people. Interest outward.

An older couple strolled past, dealing with the heat better than she’d expect, smiling, holding hands. She managed a smile of her own. A boy around ten appeared lost, and Callie about went for the door handle to help until he caught up with another kid who’d been temporarily obscured by a hydrangea bush. She settled.

Better. Collect yourself and go inside. You’re late.

Indigo Plantation wasn’t in her Edisto Beach town jurisdiction, but still, she’d been remiss in dodging the invitation to tour what was consid­ered to be one of Edisto’s future defining venues. She’d also missed the owners: a wealthy herd of four men to whom Indigo Plantation was one of many ventures, but she didn’t lose sleep over that. She was considered a political figure, one of the "importants,” but her constituents lived on the water. This was a token visit in the most complete sense of the word, and she was happy meeting only the manager.

Her mother had scolded her yesterday for being tardy with her call on the new business. Beverly Cantrell lived forty-five miles away in Middleton, as mayor, and she’d leaped at the chance to attend the private meet-and-greet a month ago before the grand opening in July. She’d returned dropping names and shoving those brochures under Callie’s nose, requiring they be read, frustrated that she’d had to make excuses for her daughter’s absence.

As had her lunch date, Deputy Don Raysor, the barrel-chested, middle-aged deputy loaned to her from the county. Scolded her, that is. At least he’d been loyal enough to wait until today and meet her out here. Except he came in his car, allowing her to come alone in hers. He under­stood why.

He’d been on Pine Landing that night, too.

Calmer, she exited the vehicle.

"Hey, Chief Morgan!” came a voice from across the parking area.

She automatically turned and waved. People recognized the "dimin­utive lady cop” way faster than she recognized them.

Following the carved wooden signs, Callie hurried past the main entrance to the addition, comprised of the restaurant and gift shop, and positioned to take in sunshine off the river and reflect the white and yellow paint. Stepping in, she easily found Raysor, who had iced tea at the ready for both of them. Before she could get seated, a fifty-some­thing blonde came over in blue slacks and white blouse, tastefully embroidered with Indigo in script over her heart. "Can I get you some­thing, Chief?”

"Ice cream,” Callie replied, the heat making a full meal less alluring.

"Vanilla cheesecake, Amaretto peach, banana caramel pecan, Bordeaux cherry?”

What happened to chocolate or vanilla? "The first one,” she said, then as the woman left, she sucked down a huge draw from her tea before facing the deputy. "How long you been here?”

"Not long,” he said, ignoring the fact they’d radioed and coordin­ated to meet an hour ago.

She took a moment to take in the eatery, scents of toasted bread and something fruity in the air. "Great place. Hope they can weather the off season.” A few of the twenty tables were empty, but business still brisk. "You toured anything other than the food?”

"Nope. Thought we’d meet the manager, owner, whatever he is, to­gether. You know... to represent the beach and the county. Like we get along and all that.” His chubby grin drew the same from her.

"Yeah. As if. So the ads say classes, tours, and a historic bed and breakfast with four-poster rice beds. Classy. Mother’s impressed.”

Raysor waved, flippant. "Well, if the esteemed Beverly gives her affirmation, then we have no choice but to follow her lead, do we? The royal stamp of approval.”

A man in his forties, decked out in dress khakis, white shirt, and a blazer in blue that Callie now understood represented the Indigo brand, appeared from a hallway connecting the restaurant to the main house. Their waitress pointed him toward the two uniforms.

"Here we go,” Callie said.

"Yeah, he asked about you earlier.” Raysor wiped his mouth on a napkin before grinning and rising from his chair.

"What’s his name?” she whispered while pushing out a smile.


"Nice, Don.”

She reached out a hand first, and the gentleman swallowed it in his. "I’ve heard so much about you, Chief Morgan. I’m Swinton Shaw, the manager of Indigo Plantation, but call me Sweet.”

She grimaced. "And you say that without joking.” She gripped and made him shake, indicating strength behind the gentility. She preferred the former to the latter when meeting fresh people.

He winked. "‘Sweet’ is my mother’s doing. We can’t run far from our mothers, can we?”

"No matter how hard we try,” Callie said, withdrawing. "I heard you met mine, and no doubt she left an indelible mark.” She motioned to the table. "Congratulations on the turnout. Sit, unless you’re too busy.”

"I can spare five minutes,” he said, gaze straying to a waiter then to the hostess podium before allowing his attention to rest at their table.

Callie got a good measure of him before he slid up a chair. A full foot taller than she, not that she wasn’t accustomed to being dwarfed, but in her career, size had proven more of a handicap to the criminal element as they continued to underestimate her. She rather enjoyed the ability to catch people off guard with her size-four physique and unspoken history as a detective in a major city. Not that it mattered here. Mr... . um... Sweet, carried all the traits of a Southern gentleman.

His outdoorsy tan married well with the colors he wore, his dark, peppered hair long, slightly waved and brushing his collar. Dignity lay­ered atop an ability to maybe captain a boat or fish the creeks. "You have a reputation of your own,” he said, waving for the waitress to bring him whatever it was he normally wanted when he greeted guests. "The first woman chief of Edisto Beach. You command respect, and I hear nothing but good about how you keep this place safe.”

"I’m still employed,” she replied, noting what sounded like a Georgia accent.

Raysor crossed a booted foot over the other knee, bumping the table. "Don’t let her size fool you. Last year she solved a six-year-old serial killer case we never knew existed.”

Sweet’s cordiality paled. "Serial killer?”

"Don’t listen to him,” Callie said, and welcomed the cup of ice cream from the waitress then watched the lady set a water and lime before the boss. "So Sweet... How far out are you booked for the B&B?”

Humor in his eyes, he stared down at her. "Meaning how long do we think we can keep this concept afloat? Trust me, we researched the B&B business before breaking ground, and our goal is to surpass anything conceived, much less attempted, on this island. A place to harbor overnight guests without competing with the house rentals on your beloved beach, yet entice your visitors with our other attractions. A small dock for our guests to catch your existing boat charters. A festival for indigo in the summer, and the Hoppin’ John Festival for New Year’s.”

Pausing, he seemed to wait for all that to sink in. Admittedly, they’d chosen prime times to hold their festivals. Little else happening in both cases.

He continued. "Our indigo doesn’t just stop at our little shop either, as we attempt to supply dyes to businesses and textile entrepreneurs up the coastline. Natural cotton doesn’t mean anything without the natural dye. And we’ll have seasonal classes on sweetgrass baskets, thanks to one of your local residents, as well as textile arts that vary from month to month. We’re attempting to marry with the natives rather than compete with them.”

Callie raised a brow at Sweet’s allocution and took another bite of ice cream to hide a smile.

"A little thick?” Sweet asked.

"Maybe a pinch,” she said. "But I like it. Call if we can help. While I don’t have jurisdiction over this part of the island, I might be closer than calling the mainland. We get along that way.” She pointed her spoon at Raysor. "Don here is from Colleton County, by the way, so I’m sure he speaks for them, too.”

Sweet’s gaze hung on her. "Very nice to hear.”

A silence passed between them. Callie juggled her thoughts, a tad unsettled at the obvious attention. The man had six, maybe seven years on her, but not enough to be too old. After all, she’d almost bedded her old boss last year... a man with a decade plus on her.

Raysor cleared his throat. "Mind if we walk around?”

Sweet seemed to remember he had another guest present. "Don’t mind a bit. Inform me of any safety issues you feel need addressing.”

He reached out to shake Raysor’s hand, then did the same in a slower, softer manner toward Callie, holding onto the grip. "I’d love to chat again. Learn about more than textbook history of Edisto. When this week’s chaos settles, I can reach you at the station? Or maybe meet you someplace for dinner?”

As long as it’s work-related. "Sure,” she said, then motioned to Raysor. "I really need to get back to my own seasonal chaos. August is crazy at the beach.”

"Come on, Doll... Chief.” The deputy tripped over the casual reference, his nickname going back to when they first met and didn’t exactly like each other. Their feelings changed, but the moniker stuck. "I’m curious, and like Mr. Shaw said, we can give the grounds a once- over.”

Sweet tipped his chin. A noble, mannerly gesture Callie couldn’t help but appreciate. Then she watched him leave from whence he came. When she looked at her partner, he smirked from ear to ear.

"Oh, shut up,” she said, and headed to the door.

The wet, briny heat slammed into them, with minimal breeze to cut the effect. Short sleeves did little to cool an officer wearing a vest and leather belt with gun, magazine, cuffs, and assorted other tools weighing it down.

Shades on, they walked around the exterior of the house. "Damn,” Raysor said as they faced toward the South Edisto River and frontage that cost a ridiculous penny or two. Paths meandered in several directions with signs blending into the landscape, but Callie led her partner to the edges of the indigo field. They soon strolled through the modernized showplace and barn, grateful for its air-conditioning.

"If he actually asks you out to dinner, would you go?” Raysor asked, leaning against a post, not in the least bit interested in how the worker behind the gate made blue dye.

"Day to day works for me, Don. I’m not into forecasting.”

"Maybe it’s time you traveled further down the road, Doll.”

She scoffed at him. "You’re like an old maiden aunt with your matchmaking.”

"As one of his oldest friends, I imagine Seabrook would want you to be—”

Her stop-sign palm in his face halted him. "Don’t... please.”

So he stopped and watched the throng around them instead.

She preferred not to discuss her deceased lover. The wound wasn’t oozing after ten months, but it wasn’t healed yet, either.

Instinctively she turned away from the conversation toward the dye exhibit. The representative spoke as he stirred the dye vat. "Indigo is not as cheap a dye as what already goes on your blue jeans,” he said. "But your current dye,” and he pointed to the various pairs of denim on the tourists, "comes from overseas, mostly the Orient, because United States laws prohibit the use of cyanide in making the dye you’re wearing in most of your jeans.”

Gasps rolled through the people.

The comment caused Callie to tip-toe and strain to see, but her lack of height prohibited seeing over the other visitors. So instead she moved to look out the picture window. People casually came and went, not a one of them without humidity dampening the edges of their hair.

Amongst the ambling strollers, a tall, bearded man in his late forties stood out, trotting, scanning the people while bee-lining it toward the house. A controlled urgency in his face, his stride.

Callie pushed through the door and headed toward the guy. "Can I help you, sir?”

"Yes!” He made a pivot, reached her, then continued fast-walking, taking her by the arm to the barn.

She wasn’t fond of being handled and shrugged him off. "Want to tell me your problem?”

"Not here,” he said, glancing around.

Raysor approached, and the stranger muttered from behind a taut jaw. "You, too. Come with me, please.”

A few people paused seeing a stern man and two cops. Unspoken, the three of them eased further into the building with this new stranger trying doors before finding one open.

They entered, and after shutting them inside, he turned. "My girlfriend found a body near the water.”

Raysor cocked both brows. "Say what?”

"Wait a minute,” Callie said. "Are you sure?”

The tall man in cowboy boots reached in his pocket and drew out a federal badge. "Senior Special Agent Wayne Largo.”

Son of a bitch.Just what this island needed, another death. She’d seen no sign of security. Guess it was on her to secure the scene and call in the right jurisdiction. "Let’s go then.”

Callie quickly maneuvered them out of the room, past the tourists, and to the outside. Largo kept their pace regular but not hurried now that he had uniforms beside him for all the world to see. No need for a panic. "This way.”

"Anyone else see?” Raysor asked.

Wayne shook his head. "Not when I left.”

Raysor released a few huffs and puffs after forty yards or so. "So your girlfriend was ok with a body?” he asked, careful of civilian ears.

"She knows what to do... and what not to. She has experience with investigations.”

"Good,” the deputy said.

"She’s a tough cookie,” said Largo.

The crowd thinned the further they walked. A quarter mile now. Perspiration easily returning to trickle down Callie’s back. "But she’s not an agent?”

"No,” Largo said. "However, she’s managed a handful of serious cases with Agriculture. A longer story for another time.”

"Oh, I think we can walk and talk at the same time,” she said. "Take me to the scene. What’s your partner’s name?”

"Carolina Slade, and I said she’s not my partner.” He pulled out his phone.

"I’ll handle any calls, Agent Largo.” The girlfriend wasn’t an agent. Not his partner, but the woman ran cases. A detective, maybe? Why didn’t the man just spit it out?

"Whoa, hold on,” shouted a voice from behind. "What’s happening?”

With dark hair—cut tight and neat, a fit and striking young man trotted to catch up. An Indigo Plantation polo, of course, and cargo pants. "I’m security. Something going on?”

Funny, Sweet didn’t mention a security staff. "Chief Callie Morgan. Mr. Largo here says a body was found on the water’s edge on the out­skirts of your place.”

He froze. Obviously bodies weren’t in Mr. Security’s experience portfolio. "Damn,” he said. "We sure don’t need that.”

"None of us does,” she said, noting that Largo and Raysor had given her the unofficial lead.

Largo struck out again, the security man matching pace but hugging close to her. "You’re from Edisto Beach,” he said. "I’m Marion Tupper, ex-Charleston County Sheriff’s Deputy.”

"Nice to meet you.” Well then, Mr. Tupper had to have some experience. Even beat cops ran across death. She wasn’t fond of this parade. Any visitors crossing their path would certainly pique an interest.

Not that she didn’t trust Marion, but she preferred not to ask questions of Largo in front of the security guard. He was a civilian regardless of his history, and securing the scene didn’t include reading a civilian in on all the details.

"You usually call Charleston County SO, right?” she asked.

"Yes, ma’am.”

"Let’s see what’s here before you call them, okay?” she said.

"Yes, ma’am,” he replied.

Ma’am. She liked that. He’d recognized the pecking order.

"Thanks, Marion. Excuse me a moment?”

With the only sound being footsteps on grass or the occasional sand and shells, she heard the periodic snort from Raysor. She caught up to Wayne’s side and lowered her voice. "How did your partner find this body?”

"Hunting for sweetgrass to make a basket. She took a class out here.”

"A class.” She curled her finger twice, beckoning to him. "Bring that badge back out. What kind of agent are you again?”

He slipped it out of his pocket. "U.S. Department of Agriculture. Office of Inspector General. You’ve probably never heard of us, but we are a federal law enforcement agency.”

Huh. Her husband had been a US Marshal, killed by a Russian mobster when they lived in Boston. She had a fair knowledge of federal law enforcement, but Agriculture?

And this girlfriend. A partner, but not a partner. A female who understood investigations but wasn’t the law. Callie wasn’t sure who this other party was, but so far she wasn’t impressed, which lessened her impression of the agent. She’d figure the details soon enough, but right now they needed to deal quickly with the poor sap who died possibly too conveniently during the biggest celebration Edisto Island had since the October plantation tour.

The island itself was not her jurisdiction, but people didn’t understand jurisdiction. All tourists saw was the uniform. All natives knew, however, was that since she’d appeared on Edisto, she’d solved cases. Cases they never knew they had, each involving a body.

Nope, not only did Edisto tourism not need this sort of scandal, but she also didn’t need to be, yet again, the lady chief who attracted bodies to Edisto.

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