by Elva Cobb Martin
Below is the beginning of a mystery I've had on the back burner for sometime while finishing a contemp and an historical romance which are still under consideration by an agent and by an editor. Does the mystery hook you? Would you be interested in reading more? Any comments will be appreciated as I am trying to decide my writing direction for the next few months while I am also doing some requested changes on the other two mss.
The Labyrinth – (Inspirational Mystery, Book 1 Lake Junaluska series)
Back Cover Copy
Murder comes to a quiet North Carolina mountain retreat center and a young woman, wanting only to be left alone, is drawn into a net of suspicion and danger. Can her aunt, an Agatha Christie enthusiast, help clear her name? Will a new Deputy Sheriff who does everything by the book, win her trust in time to save her?
The lives of two women, Trinity Skylar just out of college, and Aunt Aggi Peggoty, older and wiser, collide with murder, greed, and danger. And if that’s not enough to make the two of them want to stay sober and vigilant, romance, like a rock slide, tumbles across their respective paths. Will anything ever be the same on their
He was dead. Dead as the proverbial door knob, lying stretched out on his back, in the middle of the concentric circles of the Meditation Labyrinth with his hands folded on his chest under a brown hat.
On her morning walk to work at Lambuth Inn, Aggie Peggoty stood frozen and gaped at the marble face of the man lying in the grass with a single bullet hole in his forehead. When she could breathe again, she stooped and groped for her purse she’d dropped on the path. She never took her eyes off the deceased she knew as Mr. Jenkins. Poor soul. Who would want to go and kill an old man like him? He kept to himself. Never bothered anyone. She shook her head and tried to remember the last time she’d witnessed to him about the hope in Christianity. He cut such conversations off as fast as they began. Well, he certainly knew about the hereafter now. She sighed and then dug in her shoulder bag. Under a half dozen tissues, a too-pink tube of lipstick and sundry throat lozenges, she found her cell and dialed 911.
Aggi took a needed breath and willed her heart to quit knocking against her ribs. She stumbled over the first words but cleared her throat and started again in her normal husky voice. “This is Aggi Peggoty at Lake Junaluska. I’ve found a dead man, one of our residents, in our Meditation Garden. Is that new Deputy Martin around?”
“A dead man? Are you sure he’s dead?”
“Of course I’m sure. I’ve seen a few dead folks in my fifty-two years, young woman.” Then, not able to keep her eyes from returning to the terrible wound, she added with a shudder, “The first time I’ve seen a bullet hole in a forehead, though.”
“We’ll be right out.”
“And, look, since he’s already deceased, how about not running those sirens up the mountain here and scare all our retirees. And come on around to the chapel. The Meditation Garden is next to it.”
Aggie replaced her cell in her bag and pursed her lips. If Sheriff West came out, he would command her to leave the investigation to the law officers, meaning him. There was one thing she needed to do before he arrived with all his official crustiness.
A sudden thought chilled her. Could the assailant still be around? She stiffened and scanned the garden area with its hedges of Camilla and rose bushes. No one. No movement but a few scampering squirrels and leaves rustling in the morning breeze from the lake. Of course she wouldn’t find anyone. What murderer stayed around the crime scene? She’d read enough Agatha Christie, her namesake, to know that much. When she turned around to glance back down the lakeside trail, she saw Margie Landers walking toward the Meditation Garden, with a coat and kerchief around her head as though it were colder than sixty-five degrees announced on the radio at breakfast. The woman had her eyes lowered, watching her step on the acorn-strewn path.
The housekeeper’s assistant, in her early twenties, looked up at Aggies’s strong voice, and then gasped as she saw the still figure on the grass. She crept closer, leaned over, and looked into the face of the deceased. “Oh my! Is he...?”
“Yep, he’s dead. And I’ve called the Sheriff’s Office. But I need someone to stay here with the body, Margie, until they get here. I need to get up to Lambuth Inn to man the desk. The place will go crazy when this news gets out. And it’s Monday and there’ll be several checking out. Can you do this for me?”
The woman’s countenance paled and her shoulders slumped. “Oh, no, I wouldn’t want to stay here by myself.”
Aggie clicked her tongue. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Margie, its broad daylight, not midnight, and there’s nothing this guy can do to anyone. And whoever did him in is probably long gone. Don’t you know murderers never stay at the crime scene? Besides, more hikers will probably be coming up the trail and you won’t be by yourself for long.” She tugged at Margie’s sleeve. “I need you to do this, young lady. Please?”
Margie sidestepped as far away as possible from the corpse to the edge of the path. “Well, okay. But I’m scared.” She lifted a hand to her mouth and chewed on her thumb nail.
“Tell the deputies I’ll be up at the Inn when they need to talk to me.” Aggie turned to go, then twisted back. “And tell any others who might come up not to walk up to the body, and track up the Labyrinth area. Tell them to stay on the trail.”
Glad she’d thought of that, she hurried up the path, then the steep steps from the hiking trail to the driveway of the Inn. Her breath came in ragged spurts. Screeching tires hit the wooden bridge over the dam below and she knew she didn’t have much time.
She walked in the front door and to the registration desk and then behind it. Grabbing her master key from its hidden hook, she came back around and headed for the elevator. Mr. Guy Jenkins was—had been—registered for Room 332.
The third floor hallway was empty. She first unlocked the maid’s closet and grabbed a pair of latex gloves, then headed to Room 332. She needed to take a look before the Sheriff did. For Trinity’s sake, of course.
Trinity Skylar opened her dorm door, dropped her books and purse on the bed, and turned the thick white satin envelope over in her hands. Pain and anger rose in her throat.
With heart pounding she broke the golden seal on the flap. A wedding invitation—a wedding that should have been hers. Why would they invite her to celebrate the marriage of the man she had loved? The man her best friend had managed to steal away when Trinity had encouraged him to help Suzanne with a tough math course? Did they really think she would attend?
She tossed the expensive invitation into the garbage. Opening her small fridge, she pulled out a jar of orange juice, poured a cup, and drank three gulps. Falling into her worn chair she pulled her feet up and leaned back, waiting for the juice to replenish the energy spent in the final exam of her college career. She looked around the small, half empty room, now gathering afternoon shadows. Her roommate had already packed and left school. Against her will, she envisioned Tom’s handsome face, the last time he’d kissed her. The sweet words he’d spoken echoed in her heart. Her stomach knotted.
Oh, Tom! How could you be such a liar?
The desk phone rang. She reached for it. “Hello.”
“Trinity, how did you do on your exams?”
She recognized her Aunt’s throaty voice. “I think I did okay, Aunt Aggi.”
“Just okay? You’ve never done just okay, girl. I’ll bet you end up at least magna cum laude.”
Trinity smiled. There was no one like Aunt Aggi to lift one’s spirits.
But now her aunt’s voice changed. “Trinity, how soon can you leave college and get home?”
Trinity thought of the wedding that would be held in the college chapel Sunday. “Oh, I can leave now, as a matter of fact. As soon as I pack the car.” It was only a two hour drive. “Of course, I’ll have to be back Friday for graduation. Why?”
“Well, something has happened. Mr. Jenkins was . . . murdered last night or early this morning and this place has been crawling with police and reporters.”
“Murdered!” The eighty-five-year-old who had hired her to help write his memoirs the past six months drove the vision of Tom out of Trinity's mind. The elderly man’s washed out grey eyes and sparse hair did not take away from a military bearing. From his dictated memoirs she now knew the military influence related to his early years spent in the German youth army. That fact and a few others had made her begin to feel uncomfortable as the memoirs progressed. What dark secrets had he been hiding?
“How, Aunt Aggi? What happened?”
“Oops, here come some new guests to register. I’ll need to reassure them everything is okay. Come on home, Trinity. Let’s talk when you get here. And the police will want to see you, too, but we need to talk first.”
Deputy Sheriff Derek Dawson pulled into the Lambuth Inn parking lot a couple of minutes after Trinity. He twirled the steering wheel of the squad car into a parking space with a single twist of his wrist and flipped it into park. He couldn’t help but notice the attractive blond in a lavender sun dress lifting a suitcase from the trunk of a silver Camry. Neat car. Looked new. A small black and red banner centered in the back window heralded North Greenville University. A college girl? He wouldn’t mind meeting this new guest. After he touched base with Aggi Peggoty to get her story of the murder. She might be tired of telling it now, but Derek had been two counties over transporting a prisoner when she called in. He wanted to make his own notes. And from another person of interest, too. Her niece.
He quickened his steps across the lot and reached the lobby door ahead of the tall beauty. He held it open for her. Eyes as clear as a blue sky met his and a fragrance of vanilla and cherry floated above smooth tanned shoulders. He nodded. “Hello, ma’am.”
She tilted her chin but otherwise ignored him and walked toward the registration desk.
“Trinity, you did make it fast, dear girl.” Aggie Peggoty flew around the counter and gave the young woman a fierce hug.
Trinity Skylar. So this was the niece who had been writing the deceased man’s memoirs. And he would have first go at questioning her. Way to go. In more ways than one. He stood back, gave the lovely form in front of him a little closer inspection, and waited for Aggi to notice him.
Look forward to reading your comments or suggestions!
Elva Cobb Martin