Since my first Nancy Drew book, I’ve been hooked on mysteries. I read every mystery the library bookmobile brought to our school. In fourth grade, I was lucky enough to have a really good teacher, Mrs. Huff, who gave each child a Christmas present she’d picked especially for him or her. For me, she chose an Erle Stanley Gardner mystery. I was so excited to have a "real" book as opposed to a children’s book. My mother, who did not like reading until much later in life, was scandalized that a teacher would give a child an adult book. Worse, she flipped through the pages and found the word damn. She was carrying on in the way she often did, when my dad smiled at her the way he always did and suggested he read the book first to see if it was appropriate for me. He loved reading, and especially enjoyed mysteries. I practically stood first on one foot and then the other beside his chair until he'd finished. No surprise, he thought the book was fine for me to read. I was really hooked on mystries after that!
Fast forward more years than I’m telling and here I am still reading mysteries, only now I’ve written a few. In fact, most of my romances are also mysteries. Today, I want to tell you about a straight mystery, ALMOST HOME, which is only 99 cents on Amazon and Smashwords. You knew it would be that price, though, didn’t you?
When I decided to write this mystery, I came up with a story set in a fictional North Cebtral Texas town very much like the one near which I live. Because the town in ALMOST HOME is fictional, it can include precisely those businesses and historical sites I need. Plus, I like to poke fun at good ol’e boys and wouldn’t want anyone thinking he or she was the butt of my humor. Believe me, there are enough people living in my head that I don’t have to use real ones! Here's a tidbit of info: When my youngest daughter and I had antique booths in the local antique mall, we called ourselves Timeless Treasures. That's why I chose that name for the protagonist's sister to call her antique store.
Here’s an excerpt from ALMOST HOME. Set up is that Link attends the funeral of the second murder victim in little more than a month (the woman in red on the cover) and this one is someone he knew in high school. He's just asked his supervisor at the sheriff's office if the man (Goddard) is going to Mitzi's funeral:
"We’re all going, sheriff’s orders. Service is at ten at First Methodist. Be on time." Goddard turned his attention back to the papers on his desk, a sign they were dismissed.
Walking to their desks, Eddy whispered, "Be a great time for a bank robbery, huh?"
Link smiled. "Let’s hope no one else figures that out."
The First Methodist Church was one of Cartersville’s largest and oldest. Link signed the guest book and went into the sanctuary, which was filled almost to overflowing. The Francis family had requested donations to charity in lieu of flowers, but several arrangements spread across the space in front of the altar.
Terri’s funeral flashed through his mind and he thought he might have to leave. The only funeral he’d attended since his grandmother’s was that of his wife and that one had been nigh on to impossible to endure. For a few minutes, Link fought guilt and desperation, then took a place on the last row where he could observe the other mourners—and slip out inconspicuously if necessary.
Link saw his parents, who were here because of their long friendship with the Francis family. Though Mitzi had moved away after high school, her mother’s family and the Francis family had lived in Cartersville for generations. No doubt that accounted for most of the crowd, but Link refused to discount the notoriety of a murder as a draw for the morbidly curious.
Eddy slid onto the pew beside him. Link saw Goddard seated next to Chief Deputy Watson about mid sanctuary. Gary Don and his wife sat across the aisle from Goddard and Coy sat with them. Coy turned around and waved when he saw Link. Gary Don poked Coy, whose face displayed his hurt feelings before he turned to face the front of the church.
The organist broke into one of the usual funeral hymns. Zach Dunaway and an elderly man led the procession of bereaved. Next Drady Francis and her husband filed in and their children followed them. Apparently this small group represented Mitzi’s only relatives. Link knew Zach Dunaway’s parents had moved away years ago, but assumed the older man to be Zach’s father.
Once again Link wondered who would receive Mitzi’s estate. He hoped the Francis family benefited. He’d be willing to bet they were footing the bill for the funeral.
Link scanned the crowd while a soloist sang "How Great Thou Art" and "In The Garden." He recognized a large percentage of those in the church. When the minister stood at the lectern, Link tried to focus on the sermon. The minister hadn’t known Mitzi, and all his phrases and platitudes seemed trite. Soon Link’s mind wandered and he found himself assessing the people around him.
Zach was off the hook since he wasn’t even in the state when Mitzi died. The fact that most of these people were in town at the time of the murder didn’t help. No one so far had seen or heard anything unusual. After what seemed hours to Link, the service ended. He rose with the others and waited while the family left with the minister.
Link and Eddy eased out the door and staked out a spot where they could watch everyone else exit the church. Goddard nodded as he walked past, but Watson only gave them his feral glare. Gary Don and his wife stopped, Coy trailing them.
Gary Don mopped his face with his handkerchief. He looked as if he’d been crying. "Link, you ‘member Twyla Sue, don’tcha?"
Link nodded. "Haven’t seen you since high school, Twyla Sue." He nodded to Eddy, "Do you know Eddy Wells?"
"No, pleased to meet you," she said, but she didn’t seem pleased about anything.
She wore no makeup and had her light brown hair in some kind of fluffy bun thing on top of her head. Her black dress was about as unattractive as any Link had ever seen, but he never claimed to be a fashion expert. Still, being around four sisters and his late wife gave him a little insight into the current styles.
Of course, a smile dressed up any outfit, and Twyla Sue had apparently forgotten hers.
Link thought she appeared more upset with Gary Don than with Mitzi’s death. Maybe having her husband cry in public over an old girl friend annoyed her.
Apparently either oblivious or immune to the sour looks his wife sent his direction, Gary Don shook his head. "I just can’t believe it. Seems like only yesterday we were all in high school and Mitzi was head cheer leader, don’t it?"
Well, no, but what could Link say? This man was his boss, so he opted for the noncommittal. "Those were the times, weren’t they?"
Gary Don nodded and wiped his nose before he stuffed his handkerchief into his pocket. "Yeah, man, we had some great times back then. No responsibilities, no problems, just go to school then live it up. Nothing like now."
Twyla Sue glared at her husband. Link remembered Twyla Sue had missed the games and pretty much everything else because she worked after school at her father’s drug store. Slaved was more like it. Link worked next door at the grocery mart two nights a week after game practice and on Saturdays.
He doubted Twyla Sue’s straight-laced parents would have let her date before she was eighteen even if they hadn’t made her help at their store. Sundays her father preached at the county’s most fundamental church. Twyla Sue had never been allowed to wear shorts or pants, not even in gym class.
Link also remembered partying lost Gary Don his athletic scholarship and eventually got him kicked out of the university. He wondered how these two had ever paired up. Life sure played some cruel tricks on people when they weren’t looking.
"How’s your family?" he asked. "Your dad still own the drug store?"
She stopped glaring and brightened. "No, they sold it and retired. They built them a house just across the river near the church."
"Tell them hello, will you?"
"Sure will. We go over there for dinner every Sunday after church." She glared at her husband again. "Least the kids and I do. Gary Don usually finds a way to be busy."
Gary Don looked embarrassed. "Well, we better go pick up the kids. Twyla Sue’s mama is watching ‘em and no tellin’ what they’re up to. May have her tied up and scalped by now."
The prospect apparently cheered him. He started to walk away, but stopped and pointed a finger at Link. "You find out who killed Mitzi, you hear?" He punched Coy on the shoulder. "Come on, Coy, let’s get out of here."
Eddy stared after them, then echoed Link’s opinion. "Odd pair, the sheriff and his wife, aren’t they?"
Link scanned the other people and answered, "Oil and water. About as suited as my wife and I were." He regretted the words as soon as they were out, but couldn’t call them back. Thankfully, Eddy let the comment pass without an answer. But then, what could he have said to that?
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