Deadly Recall

Deadly Recall
Donnell Ann Bell

January 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-244-6

A terrifying memory is locked deep inside her. A killer wants to keep it that way.

 
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A terrifying memory is locked deep inside her. A killer wants to keep it that way.

As a nine-year-old child, Eden Moran witnessed the murder of her beloved teacher, Sister Beatrice. Her mind blocked the horrifying memory, and now, seventeen years later, Eden still can’t recall what she saw that fateful day at Albuquerque’s St. Patrick’s Church. The nun’s remains have been unearthed at a local construction site, and Albuquerque police detective, Kevin Dancer, starts pressuring Eden to search the shadows of her terror for clues.

Eden insists she didn’t see the killer that day. She can’t even remember knowing Sister Beatrice. Regardless, Detective Dancer refuses to give up on her. He’s not only hell-bent on solving the crime, he’s falling in love with her. If her memories resurface, she’ll be in danger, and he wants to protect her. The killer seems determined that she’ll take the memory to an early grave.

Donnell Ann Bell is the recipient of numerous awards for her fiction writing and the co-owner of Crimescenewriters, a Yahoo group for mystery/suspense writers, which is 2,000 members strong. Donnell was raised in New Mexico’s Land of Enchantment and today calls Colorado home.  Visit her at www.donnellannbell.com


 

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Excerpt

 

Prologue

SISTER BEATRICE is in seclusion, children. She leaves us tonight. Please respect her privacy and keep her in your prayers.

Eden Moran raced along the blacktop. Tears streaming and haunted by the principal’s words, she gasped when she fell. She landed hard and split open her knee. She wouldn’t cry out. At any time, Mrs. Trevino would discover she’d left the playground.

Blood trickled, her knee stung, blond hair escaped her braid. Eden jumped to her feet and continued to run. Up the steps of St. Patrick’s, she pulled on the heavy church doors and found them locked tight.

Please, please, please. She craned her neck.

The stained glass windows above the big wooden doors were open. She might as well climb a mountain.

If Sister Beatrice was inside, she would answer. Eden made a fist to pound then dropped it. If anyone else answered, she’d be in trouble. Mrs. Trevino would send her to the principal. Her parents would be furious.

It was a sin to disobey. But this time...

Nuns left. Even the first graders knew that. Still, to keep them prisoner? Not let them say goodbye? Her nose ran, her leg ached. Eden would never give up. Sister Beatrice understood―she’d saved Eden from the beak-nosed Sister Agnes, who called her a wild, undisciplined prodigy. Whatever that was!

Men’s voices brought her back, and, for once, Eden was relieved to be her third-grade size and not big like her older sister Meghan. She squeezed into the cranny next to St. Patrick’s front doors.

The voices turned out to be the school’s creepy, always-staring janitor and the old grump who took up the collection. They moved beyond the church steps and rounded the building. Eden sucked in a breath and trailed after them. She paused at St. Patrick’s side entrance, tried the knob, felt it turn, and slipped quietly into the church.

Glad she’d worn sneakers instead of her noisy Mary Janes, she crept along the hallway, inhaling the scent of candle wax and lemon polish as she strode. She could only imagine the stream of Hail Mary’s she’d be saying if her pastor found her inside the church. Worse, she pictured how long she’d be grounded if he told her mother.

Mama adored Father Munroe.

Determined for neither to happen, Eden hid between the wall and the marble pillar and dared a peek around the column.

That was strange.

A lady knelt in the second pew. She looked like Sister Beatrice, but she wasn’t dressed like a nun. She wore her dark hair back, but with her head bowed and her hands folded over her face, Eden couldn’t be sure.

Then Father Munroe entered the sacristy and Eden stopped breathing. She scrunched even farther behind the pillar, but she needn’t have worried. The only thing he seemed to care about was the lady. Crossing to where she knelt, he murmured, "Celeste.”

Eden squeezed her eyes shut. Oh, no. It wasn’t Sister Beatrice. She’d broken the rules for nothing.

"Robert.” The visitor rose to her feet. "I was told you were on a pastoral retreat.”

Was it?

"Forgive me, Celeste. I couldn’t stay away. I had to see you.”

The woman he called Celeste picked up a bag and tried to brush by him, but he blocked her exit.

"I catch my plane in a few hours. Won’t you respect my wishes and leave me be?”

"I do respect you.” His soft words carried throughout the empty church. "Celeste, I care for you deeply.”

Stretching as far as her arms would go around the cool column, Eden strained to understand. Nuns and priests didn’t talk like this. Yet, the more she listened, the more she was sure this was Sister Beatrice. So why was he calling her Celeste? And what was he saying?

"You have no right to feel that way. Ihad no right.”

"That may be true, but God forgive me, I don’t regret it. Think of the children, they love you. As for us, I always thought...” He reached for her.

She backed away.

"All right,” he said stiffly. "I can see that you’ve made up your mind. If it’s what you want, what happened between us will never happen again. You have my word.”

"Your word?” She laughed, which confused Eden even more, because the lady wasn’t happy. "After I put my life back together, I may become a lay teacher. But to belong to a religious order? Honestly, Robert, how can I preach chastity and abstinence when I can’t honor my vows?”

"Only one man was perfect, Celeste.”

"Don’t you dare preach to me.” She raised her voice in an angry whisper. "I have to know. How many women did you seduce before me?”

The priest’s normally kind face darkened. "I won’t dignify that with an answer.”

"And I won’t shame myself by standing in your presence any longer. I may be a sinner, Robert, but you are a predator.” She dashed by him into the aisle.

He followed and forced her to face him. "What’s gotten into you? Why would you call me that?”

"Let go of me, Father Munroe.

"Not until you listen to reason.”

They’d gone beyond the pillar, so Eden snuck beyond it to see. It was Sister Beatrice. What’s more, she was afraid. Trembling, Eden wanted to help her, but what could a little girl do?

She opened her mouth to beg them to stop. She was a second too late.

Sister Beatrice shoved him. Father Munroe staggered, but then he recovered and went toward her again. With his back was to Eden, she wasn’t clear what happened next. All she knew was the thud that came afterward felt like a blow to her heart.

Eden froze as still as the column beside her.

Father Munroe dropped to his knees. "Celeste?” His voice sounded strange and high pitched as he cradled her in his arms. "Oh, dear God, no! Celeste, wake up...”

The noonday Angelus drowned out his wails.

Shocked back to the moment, Eden covered her ears. Toll after toll, the bells rang, misting like candle smoke into angry, gnarled fingers. Only they weren’t pointing at Father. They swooshed down from the steeple and took aim at Eden.

Booming and hissing, they hounded her footsteps as she fought to get out of the evil place. You disobeyed. You shouldn’t be here... never would’ve happened... you left the playground...

That’s where they found her, flying high in a swing. When no one could coax her down, Mrs. Trevino yanked the chain and brought Eden to a wobbly stop. Puzzled by her teacher’s red-faced glare, Eden shoved her unraveled braid from her eyes and glanced around for the other children. Finding them gone, she shrank back in the swing.

As grownups surrounded her, asking their very weird questions, Eden wanted to answer them. Truly. But she simply had no idea how she’d ripped a hole in her uniform, gashed her knee, or lost track of her classmates. So, grasping the chain, she looked up at them and told them the truth. She couldn’t recall.


 

 

Chapter One

Seventeen years later

KEVIN DANCER negotiated the Northeast Heights construction site, stepping over rocks, scrap metal and two-by-fours. He paused as a man wearing a hard hat approached. The construction worker’s frown appeared cemented on his face, and Kevin suspected the bronzed, cinderblock type was the welcoming committee.

"You with the cops?” the workman asked.

Albuquerque’s finest hadn’t made him a detective for nothing. He flashed his badge. "Kevin Dancer, APD.”

"Walt Jackson, KLJ’s area superintendent.” He looked Kevin up and down. "You don’t look Indian.”

Kevin squinted behind his Ray-Bans. The super probably had formed that opinion from Kevin’s sandy blond hair. He’d gotten the comment a few times since leaving Ohio, graduating from NMSU, and then deciding to stay. The Land of Enchantment was steeped in culture and tradition, among them its Native American dancers. "Could be,” he said, "but I’m told Dancer’s English. You got something to show me?”

"Yeah.” The shorter man grimaced. "C’mon, we’ll make a stop by the trailer.”

Ignoring the workers milling about on the trailer steps, Jackson grabbed a hard hat marked visitor and commanded Kevin to put it on. The superintendent, it appeared, was used to giving orders.

Wordlessly, Kevin obliged. After all, he was a quid pro quo kind of guy. If nothing came of the sighting, it didn’t do to shove his weight around too soon.

Stepping back into the Albuquerque scorcher, Jackson said, "This way. For your information, Detective, KLJ pulled permits, went through every bureaucratic hoop to build here. The Northeast Heights is in Albuquerque proper. We’re not on reservation land, and there’s not a known Indian burial ground for thirty miles. I got a penny-pinching owner breathing down my neck, and a timeline from hell. Now I got bones and the shook-up operator who disturbed them.”

"Noted,” Kevin said. Several tribes called New Mexico home, among them the Navajo, Apache and Ute. Given his knowledge of the tribal leaders and the meticulous records they kept, he doubted the construction workers had stumbled onto a burial site. He never said never, however, or speculated in front of a witness. Never.

The man in charge led him to a huge hole in the ground that had been dug for yet another shopping center to accommodate the city’s half-million population. A sunning lizard appeared annoyed at their approach. It scurried from a rock into the shade of the landscape’s ever-present prickly pear cactus.

The air was so thick with desert heat and kicked-up dust, Kevin tasted grit on his tongue. He literally saw waves of vapor rising from the soil. Orange mesh enclosed the area. Whether the site proved to be a crime scene or an undiscovered burial ground, if the bones proved human, the mesh would soon have yellow tape for company.

Beyond the immediate site sat an abandoned backhoe, and beside it a dump truck brimming with dirt. One worker leaned against the truck’s grill, while another squatted next to the vehicle’s tire and sketched the ground with a stick.

"Sammy, Ernesto,” Jackson called. "This is Detective Dancer. He’s come to see what you’ve found.”

Kevin soon learned that Sammy, a long-haired scrawny kid, was the driver of the dump truck. Ernesto, the man doodling, was the operator of the tractor backhoe. Jackson explained that part of Sammy’s responsibilities had been to secure the area from wandering personnel and to make sure most of the dirt made it into the bed of the truck. He also was the witness who saw the remains fall from the claws of the backhoe and called a frantic stop to the digging.

Using the large tire for footing, Kevin hoisted his frame over the edge and scanned the bed’s contents. Finding bones, clothing or evidence intact now that digging had begun would prove a challenge. He donned gloves from his back jean pocket, then stifled a groan when he surveyed layer after layer of dirt.

He glanced down at the man scrawling in the sand. "Got a shovel some place?”

Ernesto came to his feet and hurled the stick away. "I’ll get you one. Just tell me it ain’t a kid.”

Kevin shared a sympathetic shake of his head. "Can’t tell you anything right now.”

A few minutes later, shovel in hand, he returned to the job. Carefully turning accessible areas, he eventually struck something hard. He concentrated midway, siphoning the sandy mix to see what he’d come up with. About two feet into the dirt, a grayish white appendage appeared. Cops were taught the difference between animal and human remains, and while he was no expert on the body as a whole, he recognized a human femur.

He continued searching the vicinity with no luck, then moved to the rear quadrant of the truck. About two feet down, he hit another solid object. He turned the shovel on its side and uncovered what looked like a sternum. Traces of fabric were lodged in the fragile ribcage. Drawing it closer, he saw that the tattered blue garment still held the remnants of a silky sheen. Kevin’s pulse quickened along with his hopes. If he had to make a guess, he’d say it came from a woman’s blouse. If luck were on his side—a huge if—he might even stumble onto a tag or a label, which could break the case wide open. It would not only tell them the name of the manufacturer, it could lead right down to the store that had sold it.

Even so, who knew how long these bones had been in the ground? The fabric did provide one very important clue, though. The ancients didn’t bury their dead in synthetic blends.

Securing his footing via the tire again, he jumped down. He focused on the sweating, akimbo-armed superintendent, who hadn’t appeared to so much as twitch while Kevin was digging. The super’s mouth barely moved. "Well?”

Kevin removed the gloves and hard hat and wiped his dripping brow. "I don’t think you’ve invaded any type of burial ground.”

Jackson breathed a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, it was premature.

"What I can tell you is you got yourself a suspicious death.”

The super’s bronze face paled. "How long before we know for sure?”

Kevin shook his head. "As long as it takes.” He pulled out his cell and thumbed down the list of numbers until he reached Ike Krowtow, the Bernalillo County medical examiner. He gave Ike his location, then said, "You may want to call UNM in on this one. We’ll need a forensic anthropologist.”

The superintendent flipped his own phone open. "Close everything down and send everybody home.”

As Kevin went in search of nearby shade and watched men walking away from their jobs, he derived little satisfaction in knowing the super had given his last order for a while.

 


 

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