Murder Feels Awful
So I’m just going to start typing, because I can’t decide where to start. The dead woman flying the glider? Or when Mark first read my mind? Or maybe that crazy creeptastic first funeral?
This writing thing is hard.
But this story needs to be told. For the victims. For justice.
Plus, we both missed a lot of work time with this murder stuff. It’s not like our finances are dire, officially, but Mark said I could try this ebook thing if we used the money on the mortgage first.
Not that the mortgage is the worst of our problems.
Thing is, people really did die. Somehow, in made-up mysteries, that doesn’t seem to hit the characters much. Trust me, it’s a big deal.
In fact, spoiler alert, this all does get kind of dark. Like, not even just murder. Some things are worse than murder.
But … on the positive side … working with an empath is freaking amazing.
And you know what, that’s exactly where to start this. On that Saturday hike with Ceci, just before my mind exploded.
Not literally. That would be gross. Although that did kind of technically happen later … ugh … anyway…
It was one of those rare Virginia mornings in late August that are magically coolish instead of the usual broil. The point of our hike was to bask in the splendor of our gorgeous Shenandoah Valley, with the gentle, ancient hills rolling around beneath us in green late summer glory.
But Ceci had picked some new trail that turned out to have no views at all, just a scrabbly single-file path through skinny oaks and poison ivy. In the deepest shade, beside huge boulders, the air was cold and damp and tombish. Our voices echoed a little too loud, like kids squabbling in a graveyard.
“Not going to happen, Pete,” Ceci said, in her southern Virginia drawl that higher education and a nursing career have only partly tamed. She flicked me back a firm glance over her buff shoulder. “You are not moving in.”
My current lease was up in a couple days, and I needed new digs fast.
Dad was serious this time — “Son, it’s been a year since graduation, time to pay your own way, blah blah blah…” But how was I supposed to make the rent in the stupid four-room palace Mom had settled me in? And why was Ceci being like this? With our history…
“Don’t you want help with your mortgage?” I gasped. The gasp was only partly emotional — I had to sprint to keep up as Ceci jumped easily from rock to rock up yet another steep incline. My calves and thighs were starting to ache.
No, I’m not out of shape. In fact, I’m lean and wiry, sometimes misinterpreted as “skinny”. But these days, Ceci treats every minor excursion like some kind of Tough Mudder Triathlon.
By the way, “Ceci” sounds like ”sessy”, and it’s short for “Cecily”. Which has always struck me as super fancy and feminine for a woman who’s built like a linebacker (if the linebacker were five foot six and had a cute lopsided smile).
“Besides,” I pursued, “you’ve already got other housemates.”
She groaned, that special Ceci I-love-you-but-sometimes-I-wonder-how-you-even-know-how-to-talk groan. “My housemates are all women.”
“And?” I said, confused. It took me a second to process what she meant. “Wait, you mean, because I’m a dude? Really? Is this some Baptist thing?”
“I’m not Baptist!”
I flinched with remorse. I’m pretty good with details, but for some reason I can never remember the precise flavor of her denomination. Not Baptist, apparently.
“Sorry,” I said. “But we’re friends, Ceci. We have this magical complete lack of sexual attraction! We always have.”
Ceci stepped wrong on a pebble and lurched sideways. But she righted herself instantly. “It’s not that,” she said.
I don’t know why it wasn’t. She’s one of my best friends. We met our first week of college, back when she was a chubby freshman fifteener instead of this transmogrified Miss Muscle. Since then, we’ve been talking pretty much nonstop. We were probably brother and sister in another life. I’m serious. (I used to not believe in past lives, but in the last couple years I’ve really gotten a lot more spiritual.)
“I mean, sure, Hermosa is moderately hot,” I granted. “But I’m not going to try anything with a housemate!”
“And she’s totally into that cop dude. Ramiro Romero. That guy has enough self-confidence to launch a major world religion.”
Side note: Ceci knows a lot of cops and cop affiliates, because her older sister Gwen happens to be one of the Force’s finest. Sergeant Gwen Jensen, head of our local Investigations Division. (It’s a small town, so the division only has like three cops, but still.)
Gwen is also basically a Viking goddess, in both her Attractiveness Quotient and her overall temperament and approach to life. I’m not going to say she’s intimidating, because she might actually read this.
“Trust me,” I said. “Cop girlfriends are officially off limits.”
“PETE!” she exasperated. “You are not moving in!”
I opened my mouth to protest, but just then, there came a dude.
Trail etiquette is sketchy, but I always feel you should make at least fleeting eye contact as you try to avoid shoving each other into the poison ivy.
It’s like when you’re driving on back road gravel and there’s some three-ton pickup barreling your way. You both have to give this little half-wave of acknowledgment, even if you don’t actually lift your hand off the wheel and even though there is no way you actually know each other or will ever see each other again, ever. It’s just the code.
This guy did not make eye contact.
I tried three times.
On my first two quick glances, he was apparently way more interested in either watching his step or observing the fascinating local flora.
The third time, he was staring up, craning back his head to see the sky.
This seemed so obviously avoidant that I didn’t think to look up too. Besides, he was more interesting.
Even with his head back, his eyes burned a brilliant blue. They were luminous, the kind of eyes that shine so bright you might fall in. Almost unsettling.
He was also rocking a red-blond mustache, solo with no beard. That was unsettling. Because it actually kind of looked okay. I can’t explain it.
Maybe he was good-looking enough to burn some points on eccentric facial hair? He had a powerful, athletic kind of face. But who knows? I have no clue what kind of look girls actually go for.
I pegged him at mid-thirties, although it was hard to be sure because his reddish-blondish-grayish hair was thinning big time. A large expanse of scalp openly gleamed, and the hair he had left was all fringy and shaggy in the breeze, like the last few months had seen other priorities besides hair care. He wore a ratty T-shirt and thrift store jeans, but he did wear them well.
He tramped around us in awkward silence. Ceci and I put the courteous kibosh on our conversation to make space for obligatory pleasantries, but somehow even Ceci couldn’t muster a “good morning”. And this is a woman who can dump bedpans for sixteen hours straight while sporting the aforementioned cute smile. Somehow, this guy exuded silence like a force field.
Without a word, we went our separate ways.
Then, behind us, he gasped.
Hard. Like he’d been hit in the stomach by a freight train.
Ceci and I shared a glance of mutual what-the-hellitude, then whipped around to see.
The dude was slumped against an old oak, shuddering like he was freezing and fighting to breathe. He looked shocked, even horrified.
Ceci sprang into Nurse Mode, peppering him with medical questions as she leaped down toward him.
But he winced and rasped, “She’s dying.”
I went cold all over. I felt like I’d walked into a car crash. “Who’s dying?” I called, as I stumbled after Ceci.
Still wincing, he nodded … up. Toward the sky.
Mark Falcon, the Empath Detective, may be able to sense people’s emotions, but the rest of us need a little help. If you win this giveaway, you’ll not only get paperback editions of all Mark’s detective adventures so far (including his prequel novella, ORIGIN STORY, which you can’t even BUY in print, because it’s only a gift ebook for my email list friends) … you’ll also get the technology to BE an empath yourself! I refer, of course, to … MOOD RINGS!