Edisto Tidings

Edisto Tidings

C. Hope Clark

October 2019 $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-956-8

The Edisto Island Mysteries, Book 6

 
Our PriceUS$16.95
Code978-1-61194-956-8
 
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When the discovery of a body on a vacant lot puts an end to Police Chief Callie Morgan’s surprise birthday party, Christmas week loses some of its charm. Not only does she know the dead man, he’s a relation . . . of sorts.

Soon she’s juggling a murder investigation and a rash of burglaries that may have been committed by the mythical Edisto Santa—a holiday secret Santa, who may have taken a page from Robin Hood’s book and begun robbing from the tourist rich and giving to the local poor.

Since the suspects for both crimes are Edisto residents, no matter how delicately Callie treads, this holiday season will pit Callie against her beloved Edisto and leave her feeling like the Grinch, Scrooge, and Old Man Potter rolled into one. But she has no choice. Murder trumps Santa.

This year Callie is making a list and checking it twice.

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.






"A sparkling Edisto Island setting, a flawed heroine, a riveting mystery.”

—Karen White, New York Times bestselling author

"Murder, corruption, and page-turning intrigue . . . characters that bring a vivid literary element . . . and create a strong emotional response to their tangled lives.”

—Susan Cushman, author of Cherry Bomb and editor of Southern Writers on Writing


"Page-turning... [and] edge-of-your-seat action...crisp writing and com­pellingstorytelling. 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


Murder on Edisto
selected as a Route 1 Read by the South Carolina Cen­ter for the Book!


"Ms. Clark delivers a riveting ride, with her irrepressible characters set squarely in the driver’s seat.”

—Dish Magazine on Echoes of Edisto


"Award winning writer C. Hope Clark delivers another one-two punch of intrigue with Edisto Stranger... Clark really knows how to hook her readers with a fantastic story and characters that jump off the page with abandon. Un-put-downable from the get-go.”

—All Booked Up Reviews on Edisto Stranger


Hope Clark’s books have been honored as winners of the EPIC Award, Silver Falcion Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award.



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Chapter 1

POLICE CHIEF MORGAN’S radio crackled. "Chief, you there?”

About to exit her patrol car, Callie stopped and freed her mic. "What is it, Marie?”

"A disturbance at the new Mexican restaurant. Thomas called it in.”

This was Edisto Beach in December, three days before Christmas, and Callie’d just rolled up at an old friend’s house on Pompano Drive to pick him up for a long lunch, because nothing happened this time of year. At least not until the small cadre of habitual visitors arrived for a brief Christmas.

Stan Waltham opened the passenger door and sat, silently waiting to see if his lunch date had to bow out of their meal plans. He knew the drill. He’d once walked in her shoes.

"Thomas can’t manage it?” Callie pretended a grimace at Stan, roll­ing her eyes.

"Said to call you,” Marie said.

"So why didn’t he call me?”

"I’m just dispatch, Chief.”

Marie was golden and way more than Edisto PD’s admin. She wouldn’t have called Callie unless necessary.

"On it, Marie. Out.” She hung up and sighed. "Sorry, Stan.”

He reached for the seatbelt. "Mexican’s as good as anything else for lunch. I’ll ride along.”

Callie peeled out to make a short trip of the one-mile ride to PalmettoPlaza. A resident fresh to the community had leased the west end of the thirty-year-old store strip and outfitted an eatery called El Marko’s. Last week’s grand opening went moderately well, but the timing had most of the natives scratching their heads as to why Mexican cuisine, and why open in the off-season when most businesses shuttered windows or cut to minimal hours.

"Hopefully this is no more than customers skirting a tab,” Stan said.

"Yeah. If the owner’s so naïve to open during the off-season, someone might’ve pegged him for an easy mark.”

"Maybe,” he said. "I rather like the guy, though, and you would, too, if you gave him a chance.”

"Quit matchmaking.”

As her old captain when they both worked on the Boston police force, Stan had molded her professionally and nurtured her emotionally, even after she resigned from the force and relocated to Edisto following her hot mess of a meltdown. She’d been entitled. Her husband had been murdered.

But her old captain’s advice to give the new guy in town a chance would have to be ignored right now. No one took crime as seriously as they should in Edisto, meaning she had to. Residents made excuses, and tourists looked the other way calling incidents spirits and accidents. Her job was to keep them safe and theirs to pretend nothing happened.

"You might wind up walking home if there’s an issue,” she said.

"It’s a mile, tops. I can stand it.”

They took Jungle Road with lights rolling. Stan rode laid-back, com­fortable, like a training officer watching his rookie.

They approached the end of the mini-shopping center, with an un­usualcollection of cars for the middle of the day. Especially in December.

Thomas Gage’s cruiser parked near the front, no lights. Thomas was her youngest yet favorite officer. Of an age to be eye candy, he volunteered for traffic stops, because it kept him perusing Palmetto Boulevard parallel to the sand, the road everyone had to cross to reach the water, especially tourists in bikinis.

He could handle most things on Edisto, so it surprised her that he’d called this one in. "On the scene, Marie,” Callie radioed to dispatch, putting the car into park.

They approached, and though sensing no signs of threat, she did so cautiously, Stan a few feet behind her. Nobody outside. "Thomas?” she said into her mic. Only crackle.

"Thomas?”

"Inside, Chief,” he replied, voice low.

The tinted storefront window obscured her vision with flurries and bursts of primary colors from the restaurant’s Mexican theme and Christmas decorations. Less leery with Thomas sounding relaxed, she eased in and immediately stopped. Why were the lights off?

"Surprise!!!!!”

Lights flipped on and people popped out from everywhere.

Callie backed up a step into Stan, his barrel-chested form too heavy to budge. He belly-laughed and righted her.

"Happy birthday, Chief!” came at her from a dozen mouths, the laughter and cheers a cacophony of celebratory racket. Someone cranked up the music. Feliz Navidad.

Callie punched Stan. "You conned me, old man.” Then she hugged him, his big long arms lifting her to her toes in a smother.

One by one people congratulated her.

"Which birthday is it?” Only Janet Wainwright, retired Marine real estate broker who reigned supreme on the beach, would ask that question. Her white, close-cropped hair took on an uncharacteristic pink tone in the lighting.

"None of your business,” Callie said. "Your nephew arrive yet for Christmas?” A lot of residents took on relatives during the holidays.

Janet tipped her head toward a group of laughers. The college senior tailed Callie’s neighbor Sophie like a dog in heat, ogling her for all to see. Both headed Callie’s way.

Sophie thrust a margarita in her hand. Virgin from the smell of it. "Get this kid off me, Janet, before I hex him to kingdom come. Here, Callie. Drink up. Happy birthday.”

One of her closest compatriots on the beach, Sophie Bianchi served as yoga mistress to the island... and the closest thing to an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor one could have. She didn’t come over without nos­ing through cabinets and closets when she thought Callie wasn’t aware, hunting for the hidden bottles Callie used to strategically hide.

Callie finally registered the full view of her friend. "Good gracious, look at you.”

Sophie twirled, her green, multi-striped skirt flaring, toes painted to match in golden sandals. Lemon yellow peasant blouse off those olive-tanned shoulders. A large rose over her left ear. "You like?”

"Come here. Open those eyes wide. What color contacts are you wear­ing?”

Sophie stopped, bent at the waist, and widened her eyes. "Green. What do you think?”

Callie laughed, then laughed again, feeling good. It had been a while. Even the crowd felt good. Before Callie knew it, she was engulfed by Stan again. "So damn glad to see you happy, Chicklet. Now go thank your host.”

"Absolutely, where is he?” she asked, but a tender embrace caught her by surprise first. A woman in her mid-sixties beamed when Callie pulled back. "Sarah? Oh my gosh, you’re early. I wasn’t expecting you until Christmas Eve.”

Sarah Rosewood. Her biological mother. The mother hidden from her knowledge for almost forty years by the political duo of parents Callie grew up with. Learning about her father’s affair the same week of Mike Seabrook’s murder, however, had been an unexpected blessing in a tragic time. It took the overwhelming love of both mothers to help Callie get past Seabrook’s death.

Eyes moist, Sarah touched her daughter’s cheek. "The first birthday I’ve been able to openly share with you. How could I not be here?”

Callie fought the threat of tears. "God, it’s good to see you. Come over tonight. Please.” She raised a brow.” Is Ben... ”

"I haven’t even been home yet. Just got here.” She patted Callie’s arm. "He doesn’t know I’m coming, but I’ll explain about him later. You go have fun with your friends.”

Someone raised the volume on the music as the crowd increased. Hors d’oeuvre platters began appearing on each table. The aromas of queso fundido, cilantro, mini tacos, and salsas tempted everyone to find a seat, or at least hover close by.

Word got around, because more bodies poured in. Callie pushed her way past back slaps and hugs over to Thomas.

She almost had to holler. "Who’s working if everybody’s here?”

"Ike,” he said, bending to her ear. "He said he’ll call if anything comes up. Marie, too.” He held out a hand for a shake, the other hand occupied with a chicken flauta. "Happy birthday, Chief. Had my doubts about this place, but this new guy seems to be doing all right.”

"So far,” she said.

He shrugged. "Sophie ought to help. She’s officially hostess for this joint.”

With a smirk, Callie shook her head. "She campaigned hard enough for it.”

Before the ink was dry on the lease, Sophie had schemed to land the job, a perfect match for a woman who craved people in her circle from sunup to sundown—making people spill their deepest secrets was her hobby, and she was masterful at it. A distinguishing quality Callie’d taken advantage of when the need arose at the station.

In the off-season the eatery didn’t open until eleven, long after Sophie’s yoga classes adjourned, and closed early. Summer, however, would be another story. Sophie flitted like a bee from one flower to another, and Callie expected her friend’s interest to have moved on by then.

"Callie!” came Stan’s voice from across the room. He was easy to locate. Her mentor had become an island fixture in his array of Hawaiian shirts that everyone on Edisto labeled Stan shirts and didn’t dare wear. Even in December, he donned a long-sleeve tee with a floral shirt over it to preserve his image.

"Gotta go, Thomas,” Callie said, swooping a chip through mango salsa en route back to Stan and the owner standing behind the bar.

She set down her empty glass and swallowed the chip before extending a hand. "How can I thank you for this splendid gala, Mark?”

"Already have,” he said, returning the grip. "Not sure if it’s the lure of free food or your influence on Edisto Beach, but either way, I’ll take the attention.” He rested on the bar. "Been meaning to come see you at the station, but this”—he motioned with a sweeping arm to the room—"has kept me sort of occupied.”

"Good problem to have,” she said.

He stood straight and took her glass. "Let me fill that margarita backup for you.”

"Um... ” Stan started.

Mark stopped, waiting for Stan to finish his sentence.

Callie smiled. "He’s trying to discreetly tell you I’m on the wagon. Make it plain, please.”

He winked. "You got it.”

Mark had arrived on Edisto in late August, bought a small cottage two blocks from the strip mall, and optioned the restaurant’s property in September the minute that sandwich shop vacated. Callie hadn’t had a chance to say more than, "I’m the police chief. Call on me if we can help.” And to give a nod in passing.

Everyone exceeded her five foot two, but she guessed Mark about an inch shy of six feet. He wasn’t Hispanic, but his dark hair helped the image. If she picked any ethnicity, it’d be Cajun with a name like Dupree, but he came across as more All-American to her. He was well-muscled and fit.

Rumor had it he’d retired early from public service, but she didn’t care to pry. Out here everyone had a past. When people moved to Edisto from across the Big Bridge, that past remained behind.

Besides, Edisto had Sophie Bianchi to dig up any details. Surpris­ingly, she hadn’t come to Callie with the scoop on Mr. Dupree. Either there wasn’t any intriguing intel or Sophie respected him enough not to pry. To Callie that sort of placed the man on a higher scale.

He placed the fresh drink on the bar with a dry napkin. "Can’t say I’ve seen you smile like this before, Callie.”

She liked how he didn’t automatically call her Chief. "I’m not a crowd person, but these are good people,” she said. "Took me a while to get to this place in my life.”

"Sounds like a story,” he said.

"A long and windy one,” she said.

He smiled. "Wouldn’t mind hearing it downstream.”

Stan kicked her foot.

She forgot Stan was there. Then a twinge of a memory made her sud­denlymiss Seabrook.

Sophie showed. "Am I allowed to have a drink? I mean, I’m working,right?”

"I’ll fix you one of Callie’s,” Mark said.

Scrunching her nose, she declined, stepped on the bar’s foot rail, and leaned across the bar top, not caring who eyed that yoga backside. "Open your refrigerator down there. I stashed some carrot juice.”

Chuckling, Mark did as told.

"He’s learning,” Callie said.

"Doesn’t take long,” Stan replied, laughing.

Sophie came back down and took her glass of thick orange drink, Mark having stuck a celery stick in it for fun. "I like this guy,” she growled in Callie’s ear.

"You like most guys who aren’t in a nursing home or middle school.”

Sophie batted her eyes in sultry acceptance, sipping on her drink.

"Wait, someone’s missing,” Callie said. "Where’s Brice?”

"Oh darn, I must’ve forgotten his invitation,” Sophie said, all innocent and coy.

Snickering, Callie took a sip of her fresh drink. "Better hope he doesn’t find out you made the guest list.”

"And I hope he doesn’t think it was me,” Mark added, spiritedly. "I can’t afford to piss off a town councilman. I sank everything I own into this place.”

Sophie stroked his arm. "We’ll take care of you, Mr. Dupree.”

"Yeah,” he said, grinning. "No telling how that would go. Let me get back to work. And Sophie—”

"Get back to work, too,” she said, and sashayed off, obviously loving the swish of that skirt on her hips.

Callie scanned the room for people she hadn’t thanked yet. Real estate agents, business owners, retirees.

Stan leaned over. "Told you he was a good guy.”

"What are you, my mother? Already have two of those. Don’t need another.”

An old-fashioned clapper bell overhead announced another arrival. Glancing up at the entrance, Stan’s expression fell sour making Callie turn.

The man who entered shouted, "What, y’all started without me?” in a laughing pretense that he belonged. He waded into the room, toward Callie.

"Damn,” she whispered under her breath. Brice LeGrand.

He reached the bar. "Beer,” he barked at Mark, who only nodded to oblige.

Callie cringed at Brice’s behavior, feeling the urge to apologize for this blight of a man.

"What the hell is all this?” Brice asked.

Stan answered first. "It’s Callie’s birthday, you idiot. And you better not ruin it.”

Brice pivoted, giving his back to the bigger man, still intent on con­fronting his favorite adversary on Edisto Beach. "Mid-day, Chief? Dur­ing duty hours? You realize how irresponsible this looks to visitors? Whose insane idea was this?”

"Mine,” Sophie interrupted, and shoved a baby quesadilla at him. "She had nothing to do with this surprise party except unexpectedly become the guest of honor. Why didn’t you RSVP if you wanted to come?”

Eying Sophie from the tips of her frosted pixie to her sparkle- paint­ed toenails, Brice scoffed at her. "Never got an invitation.”

She aimed at him with a napkin, then tucked it in his shirt pocket. "Talk to your wife, then, but don’t come spoiling things here.” She flippantly motioned him to scoot away. "Go on and eat. Mr. Dupree went through a lot of trouble for this shindig. And quit monopolizing Callie. She has guests.”

Brice followed orders, scouting the tables for food options.

"You’re welcome,” Sophie said to the collective three and flitted off again.

Mark shook his head. "That woman can work people, can’t she?”

"You have no idea,” Callie said.

A buzzing sounded in her pocket. Halfway expecting her son or other mother to call and wish her happy birthday, she withdrew the phone. Caller ID showed Ike, one of her three most recent hires, though he’d worked the beach over a year now. A transfer from another city with a decade of policing under his belt. Easing to a back corner as best she could, Callie answered. "Why aren’t you radioing me?”

"Sorry to interrupt, Chief, but the phone seemed best for this incident,” he said.

She gave her back to the party, covering her other ear. "Talk to me.”

"Tractor driver waved me down,” he said. "Was clearing a vacant lot. I’m putting up yellow tape and securing the scene. Sent you pics.”

Callie opened her messages. Three from Ike, three pics in each.

The driver stood next to his tractor in one, studying the ground. Other pictures moved in closer.

Face down lay a body mashed into the moist ground, half covered with poison ivy and greenbrier vines. No blood. "Jesus, Ike. Can you tell who it is?”

"Not really,” he said. "Thought someone more native might be able to.”

"Location?”

"Dolphin Road,” he said. "First vacant lot down from the corner of Portia Street, behind a large two-story house with dark green shutters. Being this place is a lot, I’m not sure the number.”

But Callie knew. Scanning the crowd, she located the lot’s owner. "Be right there, Ike.”

Both Thomas and Stan spotted her concern when she moved through the people with purpose. She waved to Thomas and motioned outside. By instinct, Stan would do his best to keep others from being nosy enough to tail them.

"Brice? Can we speak outside?” she asked, freeing two men shack­led to one of the town councilman’s political pontifications.

"Excuse me, gentlemen.” Brice grabbed another taco and obliged the chief, following her out. Seeing Thomas already waiting gave the councilman pause. "What’s the deal?”

"You own 617 Dolphin, right?” Callie asked.

"It and a few other lots,” he said. "Why?”

"Come with me to that one, if you don’t mind.”

Brice’s expression clouded, with Thomas taking a stiffer stance in defense of his chief. "What if I don’t want to? And I won’t until you tell me what this is about.”

She tried to read him. "Something was discovered in clearing your lot a few minutes ago.”

"What? I gave no approval to clear that lot.” Up came a pointed finger, the one he’d shoved at Callie on more than enough occasions. "Who’s been on my property?”

"This man, for one,” Callie said, showing him a picture. "And who­ever dumped him there.”






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