Edisto Jinx

Edisto Jinx

C. Hope Clark

October 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61194-665-9

The Edisto Island Mysteries, Book 2

 
Our PriceUS$15.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy

Is it a flesh and blood killer—or restless spirits?

According to Sophie the psychic, beautiful Edisto Beach becomes a hotbed of troublemaking spirits every August. But when a visitor dies mysteriously during a beach house party, former big-city detective Callie Morgan and Edisto Beach police chief Mike Seabrook hunt for motives and suspects among the living.

With tourists filling the beaches and local business owners anxious to squelch rumors of a murderer on the loose, Callie will need all the help she can get—especially once the killer’s attention turns toward her.



Reviews


Edisto Jinx is a phenomenal read from beginning to end. The psychological twists are as intriguing as the vivid imagery of Ms. Clark's writing. From characters with just the right amount of flaws to make them realistic, to the eerie peek into a madman's mind, it is a gem of a story I didn't want to end.—Sharon Sala, author of Cold Hearts, book two of the Secrets and Lies trilogy. August 2015 from Mira Books

Edisto Jinx has everything you want in a good island read: sand, food, drinks, people you care about, beautiful sunsets, secrets, murder, and page-turning suspense. C. Hope Clark took me to one of the most unspoiled South Carolina islands and gave me plenty of reasons to want to stay with Callie Morgan and a richly drawn cast of beach-town regulars. Pull up a beach chair, dip your toes in the gentle waves, and enjoy!—Cathy Pickens, author of the Southern Fried mysteries and Charleston Mysteries: Ghostly Haunts in the Holy City

Excerpt

Chapter 1

CALLIE STUDIED ALL the tanned visitors with drinks in their hands. The last time she attended a beach house party she killed the host, earning somewhat of a reputation in the South Carolina community of Edisto Beach. Even two-years resigned from Boston PD, thank God, her in­stincts had served her well.

But instincts don’t chase away nightmares.

This Saturday afternoon soiree served to capture the interest of both outgoing and incoming beach vacationers, per the leaflet in her mailbox. Typical of a South Carolina August, the sun blazed, the air-conditioning on high. Wainwright Realty’s party aimed to keep the attendees indoors, fed, liquored, and appreciative enough to send business its way.

"Oh wow, you live here on Edisto? How lucky is that?” The late-thirties brunette stretched out her hand to Callie. "My name’s Brea Jamison, by the way. I teach third grade in Raleigh. My husband and I are visiting my aunt for a week.” She playfully scrunched her nose. "Hey, I could almost be your twin.”

Callie accepted the light grip from the equally petite woman. "Callie Jean Morgan. Yeah, some might call it lucky.” She shifted places in the beach house kitchen to let the woman fill her glass with ice. With their light build, dark shoulder-length hair, and tiny noses, they did appear ee­rily alike. She always hated her nose.

Brea splashed gin over the ice. "Thanks. This is a pretty rocking party.”

Though close in age, Callie felt incredibly older than this teacher in a sandy-colored broom skirt and gold cotton tank, her tan smoother, prob­ably enhanced with high-priced skin products Callie knew nothing about. Callie adjusted her periwinkle linen shirt covering a white tank, not exactly matching her khakis but not clashing either.

The teacher called her lucky. Funny. Luck had held no place in Callie’s world for a long time. Her life seemed a combination of fate and what she scraped out of it.

After opening a bottle of tonic water, she topped the teacher’s glass, then filled her own virgin version with a small sigh. She dropped in lime wedges and stirred both drinks, dodging temptation to lick the spoon. "Kids?”

The teacher’s sparkle dimmed like a summer raincloud.

Callie recognized the emotional blow. "I’m sorry. Ignore that.” Great, even polite social conversation felt like walking a minefield. Why did she come to this thing?

Brea smiled, her eyes still dulled with some hurt. "No, no, it’s okay. It’s just... we miscarried right before Christmas.” She let herself frown a second, studying her glass. "You’d think I’d be over it by now.”

"These things take time,” Callie replied, using the phrase practiced so many times on her after the loss of six-month-old Bonnie. God, I can’t believe I said that. Barely a day passed she didn’t lift that baby blanket from its tissued home in her dresser drawer and inhale the memory.

The teacher ran a finger around the rim of her glass. "Grant and I hadn’t planned to get pregnant at our ages, but we fell in love with the idea once it happened. Our baby girl came too early and lived two days.” The ice cubes clinked as she swirled the glass’s contents. She took a breath then seemed to flip a switch, regaining her former self. "But I’m being a wet blanket here. My apologies to you.” She once again sparkled. "Do you have children?”

Callie’s mind remained catatonic a moment with the image of Bonnie. "I... I have an eighteen-year-old son. He lives here on Edisto, too.”

"Well, I’m jealous.” She turned as more people poured into the kitchen. "I’m sure we’ll chat later. Have fun!”

The crowd seemed to have doubled in the last half hour. Advertise­ments for the social had filled mailboxes in the blocks immediately around the host house, a rental managed by Wainwright Realty. An associate parked herself in the doorway, recording contact information with a death grip on her gold-covered guest book. The party was intended to bring stra­ngers together to enjoy the ambiance of the community... and re­book their rental with Wainwright for the next year. Ten percent off.

Sophie, Callie’s flamboyant New Age neighbor, had made it her mis­sion to acclimate Callie into society and divorce her from a self-imposed seclusion after that last party fiasco. Right now, however, Sophie worked the room, seeking yoga clients as she bubbled with conversation near the rear door from the sound of her high-pitched voice.

Good, Sophie needed this. For the past ten days, Callie had listened to her neighbor’s frequent frets about uneasy spirits. For a woman who claimed to be in tune with the spirit world, Sophie called every time she found an item in the wrong place or caught a whiff of an unidentified odor. Sophie’s daddy had come to her in a dream two nights ago.

While Callie didn’t mind being her new friend’s sounding board, the middle-of-the-night phone calls were close to crossing the line. But Sophie had been unconditionally accepting of Callie since she’d arrived on Edisto two months ago with enough baggage to scare off a Catholic saint. Besides, Sophie apologized each and every time she called, assuring Callie the experiences peaked in August and eased off by Labor Day, taking life on the beach to Edi-slow time, when tenants and residents resumed their laid-back air.

Callie imagined lower temperatures and Sophie’s kids returning to school did more to dim the craziness, but it didn’t hurt to empathize with her friend’s spiritual issues.

Callie scanned the crowd for anyone familiar. Folks always seemed prettier at a beach party, their fresh tans complementing the aquas, yel­lows, corals, and blues of their vacation clothing, sunglasses pushed on their heads or hanging in the front of their shirts. Coconut and banana scents drifted in the air, mingling with the smell of salt. Freed from old routines of home, folks pretended to be affluent, as if they lived this way instead of in an apartment in Detroit or the suburban ranch in Indianapolis.

Callie found a newly vacated spot on the end of a sofa and settled in. To wander through the clinging throng chatting with strangers held no pleasantry. She sipped her tonic once and rested it on her knee. She loved to people-watch, to read and play what-ifs about what folks really did with their lives.

Two boiled shrimp pinwheeled across the floor, slinging drops of cocktail sauce across Callie’s toes. She wished she hadn’t worn sandals in the slowed split seconds before a crash of glass and silverware jerked her around. Brea, the attractive little brunette she’d met not ten minutes ear­lier, lay sprawled amongst crab dip, melon balls, and Coke, clawing at her sunburned neck.

Callie dropped her glass on the coffee table and bolted toward the woman. Partiers already clustered tight around the convulsing body, fro­zen with helplessness.

"Give her space,” Callie shouted, kneeling her capris-clad knees on the wooden floor. Dip slid off Brea’s cheek as she fought for air. Callie tilted her head back and peered down her throat, searching for obstruc­tion. Nothing. The girl’s face, her neck, looked swollen. "Is there a doctor or nurse in here?”

"May I help?” An attractive fifty-ish man stooped beside her.

"Are you a doctor? Medic? Nurse?” Callie stroked the woman’s cheek.

"No, I thought—”

Callie shook her head. "Then no. Please stand back.” As she reached at the guy, emphasizing the need for him to move aside, her attention caught on a young man in an open shirt recording the incident on his phone. Fury flew through her. "You better be calling 911, you moron.”

Callie’s voice of authority served as a wave as the onlookers eased aside. The camera guy paled as Sophie appeared out of nowhere, snatched the phone, and punched in the numbers.

Brea’s complexion took on a blue hue, her tiny body still writhing.

Doobie Brothers pulsed in the background. "Where’s her husband? I think his name’s Grant. And somebody turn off that damn music,” Callie shouted over the throbbing beat of "China Grove.” She turned to Sophie. "Get through?”

Sophie nodded.

"Put it on speaker.” Callie raised Brea’s eyelids, studying the empty gaze she didn’t like. "Damn it.” She reached to check for a pulse when someone knocked her off-balance to her butt.

"Brea!”

The music died. Silence draped across the room as Callie returned to her knees, a man in khaki shorts now blocking her way.

Callie gripped his shoulder and shook it once, recalling his name from the kitchen conversation. "Grant, is she allergic to anything? We’ve got 911 on the phone. Try to help us here.”

Panic embedded so deeply in his face he seemed to age before her eyes. "Shellfish,” he said urgently. "EpiPen’s in her purse.” He studied the floor, his glances darting. "Where is it?”

Oh crap. Seconds robbed this woman’s chances. As she relayed in­formation to the operator, Grant searched the floor around him then jumped to his feet. He panned the room, as if each guest sabotaged his wife. "Don’t just stand there, hunt her purse!” He slung aside pillows on the sofa, shoved chairs. "It’s gold with beads, small with a long chain.”

Two women broke from the crowd to assist. Then the entire group awakened and scoured the place. Callie removed the speaker feature on the phone. "If they aren’t quick, this woman won’t make it.”

"I understand,” the operator replied. "Your name, please?”

Callie gave her the info and her address three blocks over. "I’m a former detective,” she added, as if that made any difference in how fast help arrived. She once thought it did. The moniker felt impotent right now.

Returning the phone to its owner, Callie cursed her inability to open the woman’s airways, angry no doctor was in the room. A doctor. She whirled and scrambled to the sofa. Digging out her own cell phone, she hit speed dial for Mike Seabrook, a former ER physician, currently the beach’s acting police chief.

Voice mail. "Jesus, Mike, get over to the Wainwright party on Pompano. A woman needs medical help now! Seafood allergy. I called 911.”

She hung up and returned to Brea, praying for improvement. She searched for a pulse once, twice. Barely a flutter. God Almighty. She brushed the hair from Brea’s eyes.

Grant returned, red-faced and grief-stricken. "Can’t find her purse. Nobody has a pen either.” He stopped rambling and stared at Callie, waiting for an answer.

She threw her gaze around the room. "There’s no damn EpiPen in here?” she shouted. People studied each other. A guy actually patted his pants pockets, as if searching for change. One couple slipped out the door.

Callie’s anger flared, adrenaline pumping even as she stroked Brea’s hair. Surely something could be done. Grant stooped down, frantic, whimpering. She asked, "You should have another pen at your rental house, right?”

"Yes, yes,” Grant said, eager for an option. But he fixed on Brea, afraid to leave for a reason Callie clearly understood.

"Give me your keys,” Callie ordered. "What house?”

He blindly fumbled in his pocket and gave her a lone key on a plastic tag. "The Rosewoods on Jungle Road.”

Callie’s eyes went wide. Sarah Rosewood was Brea’s aunt? Callie knew them. They might even be home.

She grabbed the key but pulled out her phone, the Rosewood num­ber already in her call list. The call went to voice mail. "Shit. I’ll run and get it. I know the place.”

Pained yet thankful, Grant nodded rapidly.

"Listen, an ambulance is coming.” Callie felt the hollowness of her words, seeing he did as well. "Hold her. Talk to her. Tell her it’ll be okay,” she said in his ear, then bolted to the door. She yelled over her shoulder. "They’ll be here any moment. I’ll be right back.”

He assumed Callie’s place on the hardwood floor and cradled his wife’s head in his lap. "I love you, I love you.” His mantra continued into Brea’s ear, half conversation to his bride, half prayer.

Feeling each second, Callie kicked off the sandals and made for the door. The lone gentleman who’d offered worthless help moments earlier teetered off balance as she bounced off him, but she had no time for apologies. The six-foot blonde woman held her arm in front of several others, offering a path. Callie bolted outside, down the stairs, and to the road. Two blocks over, one block down, she ran. Though she’d put in many a mile running along the water, she cursed at how slowly she cov­ered the distance.

Taking two stairs at a time, she reached the residence. Hands shak­ing, she unlocked the front door, not caring if she startled anyone inside or not, and dashed inside. Nobody there. She raced to an empty gues­troom, then down the hall to the other. There, on the dresser. She snatched the pen and headed outside, leaving the door wide open. The Rosewoods had been burgled a few weeks before, and they might freak over the gaping door, but so be it.

Callie ran like never before, ignoring the stones bruising her feet. She turned the final corner that put her in sight of the party house. Damn it. Still no ambulance. A police cruiser parked in front of the house, lights flashing, but as she reached the house, she ignored the familiar Officer Francis Dickens and shoved past him up the stairs.

Where was Seabrook?

Pushing through the crowd, which had dwindled by a dozen or more, she thrust the EpiPen at Grant. "Here!” she said, gulping for air.

But he didn’t take the device from her. Instead, he remained crouched, cradling his wife, the unspoken being that Callie had taken too long.

"No,” she protested and fell to the floor. She popped open the pen’s case and jammed the needle end into Brea’s thigh. "Wake up, Brea.”

Grant sat unmoving, still holding his wife, as if Callie wasn’t there.

Sophie kneeled at her side. "Callie.”

Counting in her head, Callie made sure she held the pen, praying to whatever god would listen that she could make a difference. She’d lost way too many people in her life this summer already.

"Callie,” Sophie repeated and took her friend’s elbow.

Callie reached to pump the woman’s chest and resuscitate her.

Officer Francis walked over and leaned down. "Ms. Morgan, it’s not going to work.”

Sophie stood, raised Callie to her feet, and moved her away. Then she looked back at Brea, and in a faint whisper of words, said, "Follow the light, sweetie.”

Hot Atlantic breezes blew through the open doors, the surf pound­ing on the sand a block over. Except for Callie’s hard, noisy breaths, the room hung quiet in respect for Grant, his mumblings to his wife the only voice.

Pain swelled in Callie’s chest as she watched death settle on the woman. She reminded herself that her old panic attacks were in her past. She was safe now. Unlike the woman who’d formed a brief bond with her about beaches, luck... and dead babies.

She managed the breaths hammering her ribs as her doctor had taught her in Boston. Air entered more, then more. She raked her hair once, twice, again.

No damn way she would ever go to another beach party again. Never. Not ever.


 

 

Chapter 2

THE SECOND POLICE car arrived at a quarter after five, a few minutes before the ambulance, and the acting police chief took three steps at a time reaching the porch, then entered. Brea’s body remained as it fell. Some of the beach house partiers hovered around the room’s perimeter in a daze, while others made for the exits in spite of the arrival of the lone skinny officer asking everyone to stay.

Callie stood with Sophie on the porch, distanced from the drama as a slight breeze barely moved the hawthorns and palms. As Callie fought to regroup from the shock, she listened hard to the soft, smooth ebb and flow of the surf two hundred yards off. Drama in a place like Edisto should consist of councilmen getting drunk in public or a boat sinking while tied at the dock. That’s how she remembered the beach. It had been anything but normal since she arrived.

Sophie glanced in a window, her bangles jingling against the glass. "Oh my God, hope I never have to rely on EMTs.” Then her voice changed to a whisper, as if speaking to Brea’s spirit. "You must move on, Brea honey. Please, move on.”

"Sophie!” Callie wasn’t in the mood to patronize her friend’s spiritual convictions.

Sophie stood fast, not rebuffed in the least. "Spirits of the suddenly departed often hang trapped in the present.” She peered inside again as if to catch a glimpse of the departing ghost.

An uneventful month of summer sun without a catastrophe had given Callie false comfort. To think she’d almost overcome the devasta­tion of June with its death and bloodied visions forever seared on her brain.

She’d come to the Wainwright event to socialize, ease into local life, try to recall what regular living meant. Brea had given her a sweet taste of that normalcy for the barest of moments. The first woman Callie had met who experienced the sheer hell of losing a baby. She seemed so fresh and transparent. Callie would’ve enjoyed a quieter conversation to become acquainted with the woman.

Or maybe not.

Brea had been a third grade school teacher. A far cry from a burned-out detective. Who’d want to have tea with that?

The screen door opened, and a tall officer in a navy blue uniform ap­peared, scanning the porch as he put on his sunglasses. "Callie?”

"Over here, Seabrook,” she said.

The Seabrook name boasted a long Edisto lineage. Callie had met the man after she called in a murder the first day she moved in. As they be­came friendly, the title of Officer Seabrook shortened to Seabrook. Some­how Mike never fit.

"I’ve only got Francis here at the moment,” he said, referencing the first uniform on the scene. "Can you help me take a few statements? There are a lot of people, and you’ve done a lot of this.”

She sighed heavily. Edisto only had six officers, and she doubted half them had experienced much more than drunk and disorderly. "I’m a wit­ness,” she said. "Sounds outside of protocol, and I’m not in the business anymore, Seabrook.” Not that she ever wanted to be again.

A couple she’d seen earlier scooted across the road, and others jumped into cars. People wanted nothing to do with police or death dur­ing their vacation. "Seabrook, you ought to corral those tourists. It’ll be a nightmare chasing them all down.”

Seabrook spun around and hollered to his thin, young colleague. "Francis! Go down there and block those cars. Take down their tags. Stop those people from running off.”

He turned to her. "And this is why I need your help. This ordeal is like herding cats.” He keyed his mic and asked another officer to report. He disconnected and stepped close. "I know you aren’t keen on the cop stuff anymore, but this is elementary. I’d really owe you, Callie.”

Sweat already trickled down Seabrook’s temple from another dog day in August. Bleached blond, easygoing, and forty-four, the man blended into the beach scene as if he’d been born behind one of the piers. The natives knew him as the ex-doctor from Charleston turned cop for rea­sons that remained rumor. When the former chief accepted a position in North Carolina, the town council slid Seabrook into the slot temporarily and advertised the job. So far no takers, leaving Seabrook as the depart­ment’s reluctant leader. He had his plate full.

"All right,” she said. "Give me a memo book.”

He slid one from his pocket.

Callie took the pad and flipped it open, like she’d done so many times on the streets of Boston. "How’s the husband?”

Seabrook shook his head. "Devastated.”

"It’s the jinx,” Sophie uttered in a low voice, her turquoise gauze skirt swishing as she turned, the summer colors and gently folded material so terribly out of place amidst the disaster. "God help us,” she said. "We have another spirit.”

"Stow it, Sophie,” Seabrook said with a fatherly chastisement, though the yoga instructor was two years his senior.

She stuck out her chin, undeterred. "I know what I’m talking about. I’ve lived here much longer than you, Mike. They visit me. Move my things. God help them all, but they’re occupying my house!”

Sophie’s metaphysical rants kept Edisto natives entertained most days, but on occasion, a hint of reality gave substance to her beliefs. Callie had adapted to Sophie’s oddball view of humanity and her way of being right about human behavior in spite of her naiveté.

"Thought the spirits were only your father and aunt,” Callie asked.

Sophie stuck up two fingers.

"Yes,” Callie said. "Two. That’s what you said.”

Sophie waved a pointed finger. "No, honey. We have this same two-week period every August when somebody gets hurt... or dies. Always happens. Like the phases of the moon.” Her aqua eyes stared hard as she gave a single determined nod.

Callie frowned. "So your house is haunted?”

Sophie’s long earrings brushed across her collarbone. "No, the beach. The deaths happened in several houses and along the water. All within a five-block radius of here.” She rubbed the porch railing. "I keep telling you people that there’s another world with a conduit to ours. Some spirit’s pissed, and it rears its head every August, disrupting other souls with it.”

Seabrook blew out hard. "We don’t need your hoodoo right now, and neither does this crowd. Neither does the tourism of Edisto Beach, so collect your Tarot cards and keep your soothsaying to yourself, please. We’ll interview you and let you go home earlier than the others. That suit you?”

She struck a pose. "I pay attention to the signs of the universe, and if you don’t, you’ll experience more of this,” she said, swinging her other arm wide. "I’m a voice delivering the messages y’all can’t hear.”

Callie headed to the door. "We hear you.”

Sophie jerked her ringed thumb at the officer. "He doesn’t.”

The screen door squeaked. A gurney rolled out, Brea’s face and body covered. The husband dragged his feet behind them, his dead wife’s gold beaded purse clutched to his belly.

A lump filled Callie’s throat, and she stepped closer to Seabrook. "Where’d they find her purse?”

Grant clutched the purse tighter and paused. "Someone found it un­der the sofa,” he said to her. "Under the goddamn sofa.”

Callie, Sophie, and Seabrook stared silently at the poor man.

Grant dragged himself around, each step falling tired on each step, and joined the EMTs at the bottom of the stairs.

"I’m sorry,” Callie whispered. She fully understood how a split sec­ond or a cruel shift of fate could alter life forever. In the days following her husband’s death, she’d wished she’d been with John to save his life, or died alongside him. Two hard years of self-doubt taught her that fate did whatever it damn well pleased.

Her chest hurt, and she instinctively rubbed between her breasts, easing the hint of panic. The last anxiety attack hit when she first arrived on Edisto. Gin used to be her medicine of choice. She’d emptied her house of the stuff to keep temptation at bay, but right now, the tension inside her called its name, and God help her, she knew exactly where it stood right now inside the party house. But she had too many eyes on her, damn it.

TWO HOURS AFTER the ambulance left, as evening descended, Callie and the police had canvassed almost three dozen witnesses, most of whom simply stated Brea "just fell over.” The real estate lady with the sign-in book, however, had disappeared. But they knew where to find her.

"Such a shame,” Seabrook said to Callie in the kitchen. Sophie re­mained outside, having discussed the event with almost every demoralized partygoer as they left. Seabrook’s long arm reached around Callie’s tiny shoulders and drew her to his side. "Don’t let this undo you, honey.”

She smiled weakly at the gentle gesture, glad he hadn’t been able to read her mind about a drink. The vestiges of Seabrook’s medical training appeared here and there even as he played cop, his respect for people’s well-being ever present. She enjoyed the occasional dinner, walks on the beach, even a kiss or two, but they both fought a heavy history. Police work, tragic loss of their spouses—the similarities drew them together, but they remained apprehensive about taking their acquaintance very far.

"Uh oh, y’all,” Sophie said in the doorway. "Janet Wainwright’s in­vading.”

Callie and Seabrook moved outside.

A gold Hummer crunched gravel and stopped. The signage on the side glinted bright red in the sunlight with gold swirls of waves that ap­peared to undulate in the heat as the driver opened her door.

An elderly woman in her late sixties stepped out and scanned the area through squinted eyes before she donned a pair of wire-rimmed aviator shades. After pushing sinewy arms into her yellow linen blazer, she strode to the stairs. The beach homes sat on stilts, thanks to South Carolina’s predisposition to hurricanes, and access to front doors meant a climb of at least two dozen steps. In spite of her age, the agent tackled each step with purpose, as if subduing them would galvanize her mission.

The real estate agent sported a cropped head of gelled white hair and wore a red-stoned ring on her finger emboldened with USMC. She halted with almost a click of her heels. Callie resisted an urge to salute.

"Evening, Janet,” Seabrook said. "One of your rentals, I assume. Your final summer hurrah to snag next year’s customers.”

"Damn straight. Report, please.”

Janet Wainwright had retired from the Marines and stormed the beach of Edisto, claiming it as her territory twenty years ago. She bought a house, then two, and then decided retirement meant more than watching the tide rise and fall. The choice had no doubt hindered her aging as Callie observed the spark of fight in the narrow eyes. While half the island feared her, the rest swallowed their misgivings and begged for her to rep­resent their deals.

The unsaid truth was that folk were confused as to her gender. She’d been a drill sergeant at Parris Island in nearby Beaufort, which only made her more formidable to anyone seated on the other side of the loan clos­ing table.

"Accidental death,” Seabrook said. "You don’t happen to have your sign-in book with you?”

Wainwright’s features hardened. "Well shit, Seabrook. Don’t you dare let anyone blow this into something it’s not. Don’t make me spell it out for you.”

Callie held out her hand and noted Wainwright’s gloss over of Seabrook’s question. "Callie Jean Morgan. Nice to finally meet you, Ms. Wainwright.”

The agent jerked a quick shake, released her ironlike grip, and reared her head back like a turkey. "I see the resemblance to your mother. Fine woman.”

"Thanks.” Callie would contemplate Wainwright’s connection to Beverly another time. She opened her notepad to another page. "We missed interviewing your associate. What’s her name? She had a guest book that would’ve listed everyone. Some of the guests slipped off from us.”

As if Callie hadn’t spoken, Wainwright snapped at Seabrook. "Well?”

"Well what, Janet?” His impatience cracked around the edges of a usual genteel persona. "The poor woman had no idea she was dying in one of your properties. We do need to see that guest book, by the way.”

The agent’s exhale cut the air. "I need this upset to vanish fast, Seabrook. Can’t afford to seed a rumor that stifles the market.”

"Oh, I’ll do my best,” he said.

She nodded, ignoring his sarcasm. "Good. Got to do damage con­trol, so if you’ll excuse me.” She marched into the house.

Callie closed her gaping mouth. "Wow.”

"And she likes your mother,” Sophie added. "That speaks volumes.”

"Wait, shouldn’t that room be treated like a crime scene?” Callie asked.

"No,” Seabrook replied. "I’m not calling it a crime scene, but Thomas will stick around until Janet secures the place, won’t you?”

"Yes, sir, Mike,” he replied, and the squatty—and again very young—cop headed inside.

Wasn’t long before Officer Francis’ head peered out the door, eager for a reprieve. "Anything else you need me for, Mike?”

Seabrook shook his head and waved toward the drive. "No, we’re done. Thomas can manage.”

"Thank goodness.” The skinny, one hundred-fifty-pound cop put his hat on and clomped down the first few steps. "I feared I’d get drafted in there. That woman’s intense!” The young officer made a brisk escape.

The door slowly clicked shut on its own in Francis’ wake. While Callie ached for Brea, and especially Grant, this death did her no favors. She’d hoped to avoid such incidents by moving to Edisto: useless death, human agony, stupid acts of misfortune that destroyed people’s existence like it did her in Boston. She had barely begun to fit the pieces back to­gether. Playing cop to other people’s tragedies only served to scratch a scab off a wound, making it bleed all over again.

Francis settled into his cruiser, but he hesitated shifting into drive as a faded yellow Volkswagen Beetle pulled in behind him. Not a recent one with its flower holder on the dash, but an antique version from the ’70s with rust on the fenders and a sun-bleached peace sticker on a side win­dow. The officer looked in his mirror at the car and studied the driver. Not until the woman exited the vehicle did Callie recognize why.

"Alex Hanson.” Sophie screwed up her face and let loose a reserved squeal. "Cute as a damn newborn kitten. I so wish Zeus would date her, but he says she’s too old. Can you imagine ignoring that?”

The long-haired, mid-twenties girl bent over and spoke to the officer through his window. Her jeans fit like jeans ought to fit young girls, ac­centing nubile curves they would never appreciate until after they’d dou­bled their age and pants size. "Why would she come to a crime scene?” Callie asked. "She works for the paper?”

Sophie eyed the young lady, and Callie noted Seabrook’s gaze didn’t stray far either.

"No, our newspaper’s a one-man show, and I mean man,” Sophie said. "Alex’s independent, one of those bloggers. Does that bird thing, too.”

The corners of Seabrook’s mouth slid up as he caught Sophie’s meaning. "Twitter?”

Sophie swung around. "Yeah, that’s it. I barely do email, so don’t ask me to explain what a Twitter is. I heard it’s all called EdistoToday.”

"So she is seeking a story,” Callie said.

Social media experts replaced the reporters of old, only instantane­ous. Callie just never expected it to be all that active out here. Hit a but­ton, and news went live. At her old crime scenes in Boston, she could never tell the difference between the paper reporters and the online ones. In her opinion, journalists were held to a higher standard, as ridiculously measured as that was. Bloggers operated in a no-holds-barred mentality.

Callie’s opinion of the young lady tasted sour regardless of her ador­ability, because she bowed at the journalism altar. Like a hungry reporter, Alex took five pictures of Francis on her phone then the house and Callie, Seabrook, and Sophie watching her from the porch railing before she set foot on the bottom stair. There she paused, entered something into her phone, and then climbed the steps all bright and cheery.

Sophie rocked on her feet as the girl approached, overly excited with the brown-haired girl whose locks swept into a messy ponytail. She reached them with the phone in one hand, the other extended to Seabrook. "Hey, Officer Seabrook. What can you tell me?”

Sophie interrupted. "Zeus says hello.”

Alex cocked her head. "Oh, Ms. Bianchi, I doubt that. But tell him hello for me.”

Giggling, Sophie’s grin widened. "Want to come over after... all this? You can tell him yourself.”

"Thanks, but I’m on a deadline.” Alex keyed in something again, a tight smile of satisfaction on her face. She turned to Seabrook. "Who died? Natural causes? Accident? Foul play?”

No microphone like the hordes of reporters at press releases or courthouse exits, but the pushiness rang true. Hoping for fame and a few bucks from others’ losses. Funny how using a regular phone played down the obtrusiveness, but Callie’s guard remained piqued.

"No comment,” Seabrook said.

Alex snapped another picture of Seabrook. Then with a spin on her dainty sandals, she scooted inside.

Callie waved at the door. "Stop her, Seabrook! You don’t want her in there, do you?”

"Thomas will catch her,” he said, staring after the nymph.

Sure enough, Thomas appeared at the door, escorting the girl out by the elbow, and gently deposited her on the porch, gracing her with a wide smirk... and a wink. An unruffled Alex snapped three more pictures. "Come on, Officer Seabrook. What’s your police chief take on all this?”

"Sorry,” he replied. "This isn’t Ground Zero. I’m not releasing in­formation yet.”

She pivoted toward Callie with the phone cradled just so. "How about you, Ms. Morgan? Heard you played the heroine. You seem to have a knack for that sort of thing.”

Callie shook her head. "Nobody was a hero here today.” The late af­ternoon’s sun glinted harsh off a car window, and Callie slid on her sun­glasses, a flutter in her chest warning dusk was nigh.

Alex leaned closer. "Didn’t you kill the man responsible for those break-ins and attacks two months ago? You’re always in the action.”

Callie shook her head. "I’m not feeding your next edition, sorry.”

Alex pushed a stray sun-lightened tress behind her ear. "There is no edition, ma’am.”

Ma’am?

"News is live feed these days,” the social media diva explained. "This is real time. Check your Twitter. Read it on my blog, EdistoToday.com. Care to comment, or do you want me to fill in the gaps?”

"I’ll tell you, Alex,” Sophie said. "I saw it all, and I’m not bound by any cop code or anything.”

The phone spun toward Sophie. Two clicks for pics, then Alex waited, her twinkling eyes eager. "The stage is yours, Ms. Bianchi.”

Callie moved away to the other end of the porch, not caring to be in­volved or to hear a rehash a laSophie how Brea Jamison died. Seabrook followed. Alex peeked at them before honing in on her more cooperative citizen on the street.

"How come I’ve never seen her before?” Callie asked. "She seems pretty entrenched here.”

"She hasn’t been around full-time but a couple years,” Seabrook said under his breath. "You’re familiar with her grandmother. Ms. Hanson.”

Callie almost tasted warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies as the con­nection registered. "Ms. Hanson’s house was one of the ones that handy­man burgled the week after I moved in. He took her necklace.”

Seabrook relaxed against the railing. "Yeah, Alex lives with her, but she’s been visiting parents in Atlanta. She hustled home when she saw Edisto becoming worthy of news releases after you dealt with Mason Howard. Surprised you haven’t been accosted by her before now.”

Callie had received numerous calls and emails from reporters from Charleston, Columbia, Savannah, and more after the June episode, but she became numb to the ringing, never replying. They finally found other headlines. Callie clenched her jaw, not fond of one man who’d hounded her for three weeks after she’d killed the Russian mobster hiding out as playboy vacationer on the beach.

For a short while, she was the hottest story since BI-LO bought out the Edisto Piggly Wiggly and opened its door 24/7. Seabrook had kept most of the Russian’s details secret from the press out of respect for Callie and Jeb, and she’d had no problem clamping her mouth shut to make the news go stale faster.

Alex didn’t come back soon enough to surf the wave of that story, but she rode the crest of this one.

She finished with Sophie and approached behind Callie. "I’m cover­ing the story, like it or not, Mr. Seabrook. This is the sixth year. Residents out here—”

The screen door slammed. "Do it, and you’ll be the next casualty on that blog, Ms. Hanson.” Janet strode out, shoulders braced. "I told you last year like I told you inside, news is fine until you start hurting people.”

"Six times?” Callie mumbled to Seabrook.

The cop frowned and shook his head.

"Yes,” Alex said, catching Callie’s words. "Six years counting this one.”

Callie recalled a call from Beverly about a drunk tourist falling down her stairs, the angle of the fall snapping a leg and breaking her neck in one fell swoop. She also recalled thinking that the woman shouldn’t have been partying so hard. Someone else drowned another time, but what beach didn’t have those events? She’d never considered that these little pieces of tragic gossip from Beverly were taking place in the same two weeks in the same month each year.

Janet reached for the reporter’s phone. "Do not make this into something it’s not, Lois Lane.”

Alex deftly dodged the reach. "Neither this death nor the ones be­fore it are classified secrets.”

"You’ll do damage.”

"You don’t have the right to decide the news.”

The rigid old Marine and the young contemporary techie. Were these two women any more opposite?

But this history troubled Callie. Accidents happen. A death gives you pause. Six deaths, um, no.

Callie abhorred journalists and their desire to exaggerate the normal, but she also believed that public education made everyone vigilant, re­sulting in fewer victims. Her interest aroused as to where this new infor­mation fell.

"I tweeted on that drug overdose last year,” Alex said. "On the twentieth. Today’s the fourteenth, so we’re in the ballpark for the two-week period. This woman, however,” and she tilted her head at Wainwright, "went all over town confiscating the newspapers, trying to cover the incident.” She scoffed. "I bet she’d even paid for advertising with them!” She laughed. "But you can’t collect tweets and blogs, Ms. Wainwright. Nor silence them.”

"I have business to tend to.” On Janet’s way down the stairs, she wheeled around on the landing. "I’ll be watching, Ms. Hanson.”

The girl harrumphedher. "You keep watching those empty newspaper stands, ma’am. You can’t touch online journalism, but I’d love to sell you some ad space.”

Seabrook held up his hand. "Heard all this before. I’m leaving. You coming, Callie?”

However, Callie’s mind churned. Six years. Six deaths.

A tiny shiver coursed through her. The what if’s and maybe’s ran on a loop in her head. God, she felt ill at the fact a history even existed. She didn’t need this. Surely Seabrook had files that explained it all.

She already struggled looking at the empty house next door where Papa Beach lived... and died. She hated walking past Water Spout where she’d killed Mason. Now she’d probably dodge driving by this poor place, too. If she wasn’t careful, she’d be confined to her own house, listening to Neil Diamond every day on her porch, sipping gin to muddy the images, her cam-covered Chelsea Morning feeling the only safe spot on earth.

"Wait a second, Seabrook.” Gracious and be damned, but she couldn’t help it. She turned to Alex. "Were these casualties men, women, teens?”

"All women,” Alex answered instead. "Late thirties, early forties. Sort of like you.”

"All accidents,” Seabrook said.

"The jinx,” Sophie murmured.

Fantastic. How the hell was Callie supposed to blindly accept Brea’s death as an accident now?

 


 

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