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Authors: Sallie Bissell

Tags: #suspense, #myth, #mystery, #murder, #mary crow, #native american, #medium boiled, #mystery fiction, #fiction, #mystery novel, #judgment of whispers

A Judgment of Whispers

BOOK: A Judgment of Whispers
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Copyright Information

A Judgment of Whispers: A Novel of Suspense
© 2015 by Sallie Bissell.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Midnight Ink, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

As the purchaser of this ebook, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on screen. The text may not be otherwise reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or recorded on any other storage device in any form or by any means.

Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author's copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

First e-book edition © 2015

E-book ISBN: 9780738744919

Book format by Bob Gaul

Cover design by Lisa Novak

Cover photo: iStockphoto.com/5334736/©spxChrome
iStockphoto.com/5878944/©Canoneer

Editing by Nicole Nugent

Midnight Ink is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bissell, Sallie.

A judgment of whispers: a novel of suspense/Sallie Bissell.—First edition.

pages; cm.—(A Mary Crow novel; #7)

ISBN 978-0-7387-4361-5

1. Crow, Mary (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Women lawyers—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3552.I772916J83 2015

813'.54—dc23

2015018563

Midnight Ink does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business arrangements between our authors and the public.

Any Internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific reference will continue or be maintained. Please refer to the publisher's website for links to current author websites.

Midnight Ink

Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.

2143 Wooddale Drive

Woodbury, MN 55125

www.midnightinkbooks.com

Manufactured in the United States of America

For Debra Fisher

Acknowledgments

My thanks to:

Jim and Dorcus McBrayer, who introduced me to Rugby, Tennessee. Your hospitality is amazing!

Robbie Anna Hare—superb agent, fellow granny, friend, and
champion.

My colleagues at Midnight Ink—Terri Bischoff, Nicole Nugent, and Beth Hanson. I so appreciate your enthusiasm and hard work.

Finally, to those whose lives have been touched by autism—I salute your courage and admire your heart.

Prologue

It came into his
bedroom unbidden, through the screen of his open window. At first he rolled over and pulled the covers to his ears, thinking it was a dream. But then it came again—a sound, a smell, a shadow that flitted across the field of moonlight that puddled on his sheets. It was all of those and none of those. It was something he hadn't felt in a long time.

He reached—a habit of fifty-two years—for his wife. But Jan's side of the bed was empty, her sheets cool.
Minnesota
, he remembered.
Jan is in Minnesota now. I'm in charge of the cat and the chickens.

He turned his back to the window, deciding that whatever he'd felt had been just the strangeness of Jan not sleeping beside him. Then it came again—unidentifiable, inadmissible in a court of law, but there nonetheless. For some reason, he thought of his daughter Lisa, rehearsing her role as the second witch in a college production of
Macbeth
:
By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.

He sat up, studied his thumbs. They seemed all right. A breeze fluttered the sheer curtains, making them puff out like ghosts. He
got up and went to the window. The half moon was low, about to sink behind a thick bank of clouds. In the dimness he could see his garden, the two rows of corn standing like sentinels guarding the squash and tomatoes. Faraway he heard a menacing growl of thunder.

“Just a storm,” he whispered. “Nothing to worry about.”

And yet he knew it was more than rain. It was a sense of something returning. He could smell it, thick as the ozone wafting in from the south. As lightning sparked and turned the cloud bank a sick shade of yellow, he realized what it was. Something wicked
did
this way come.

It scared him so badly that he threw on his robe and went into the kitchen. He turned on the lights and put on a pot of coffee, the cat brushing against his legs, mewing for its breakfast. Though he usually considered the furniture-clawing Ivan a pain in the ass, at that moment he was glad to have his company. He was something warm, something alive.

“You want chicken or tuna?” he asked, peering at the cans of cat food Jan had left in the pantry.

Ivan did not indicate a preference, just kept yowling. He opened a can of tuna and scraped it into his bowl. The cat took one bite then stalked off into the den, its rigid tail an exclamation point of disdain.

“Must have guessed wrong,” he said. He considered opening another can, perhaps the chicken, but decided against it. He'd grown up on a farm, where cats lived in barns, fending for themselves. He couldn't imagine any of them turning down a can of anything.

He poured a cup of coffee. This early the morning news would be nothing but a rehash of the night before, so he went into the little bedroom Jan had turned into his study. Mostly he just kept his junk—the golf clubs he used weekly, a treadmill he never used at all. In the corner stood a desk that sported his old nameplate—
Jack Wilkins, Detective, Pisgah County Sheriff's Department.

He sat down, turned on the light, and looked at the array of mementos piled on the desk. A couple of citations for valor, a news photo of him comforting a child whose mother had survived a bad wreck, and his gold detective badge leaning against the lamp. “Those were the days,” he whispered.

Mostly, he'd done okay. Though he'd taken two bullets (one in the upper arm, no big deal; the other in his calf, which pained him to this day), he'd cleared thirty years' worth of cases and slept untroubled by the people he'd sent to prison. There was only one case that still haunted him—that would, he guessed, haunt him until the day he died. Teresa Ewing—a little ten-year-old girl who'd gone out to deliver a casserole to a neighbor and never returned. Or never returned alive, at least. Had the memory of Teresa Ewing awakened him? Had something to do with that case come back?

He hesitated before he unlocked his bottom drawer. The case had become an issue between him and Jan. He, along with everybody else in Pisgah County, had grown obsessed with it. Teresa Ewing had taken up residence in the back of his mind, and he often found himself thinking about the dead girl when he should have been thinking of his alive and very pretty wife. Jan had finally given him an ultimatum: that case or her. He had, wisely, chosen her, but he had never thrown his case files away. Sometimes when Jan was out shopping or having lunch with friends, he would sneak in here and touch the locked drawer, as if it held some memento of a wildly extravagant affair. Today, though, it seemed like more than just visiting an old obsession. Today something felt changed.

He unlocked the drawer and took out the tattered, coffee-stained file. For an instant he hesitated, like a sober alcoholic weighing the cost of just one drink, then he started turning the pages, reading the reports, looking at pictures of himself when his stomach was flat and his hair was the color of sand instead of snow
.
And the girl … the little girl.

Two hours later he closed the file. Though the thunder growled more loudly, he hurried to put on his clothes. He needed light, human voices, the bustle of normalcy. He got in his car and drove to the Waffle House, an early morning stop for tourists and truckers and retirees like himself. Today the place was mostly empty, the weather, he guessed, keeping everyone in their own kitchens. His favorites were at their duty stations—Mike scrambling eggs on the grill, Linda shouting orders like a drill sergeant. They knew he'd been a cop; both called him Chief, though officially he'd never risen higher than Detective.

“Don't tell me you're playing golf today, Chief.” Linda frowned. Outside, the yellow sky had turned a sickly ochre.

“No, just woke up early and couldn't sleep.”
Couldn't sleep or wouldn't sleep? How did that old song go?

“Aw.” She was already pouring him a cup of coffee. “Mrs. Chief out of town?”

“Minnesota with the grandkids.” He smiled at her perceptiveness. “How'd you guess?”

“You got that hubby-at-loose-ends look about you. You want your regular?”

Usually he came for a breakfast hamburger before he played nine holes at the municipal course. Today, though, was different. “No, I think I'll have eggs. Over easy, with sausage.”

Linda raised a penciled-on eyebrow. “No hamburger? Chief, are you hungover? Mike's got some hair of the dog, if that'll help.”

He laughed; he hadn't had a drink in years. “No, I'm okay. Just in the mood for eggs.”

“I'll fix you the special and charge you for the regular,” she whispered as she put a spoon and napkin down beside his cup. “You'll get a free waffle.”

He sipped his coffee. He was admiring Mike's ability to fry bacon, cook waffles, and scramble eggs all at the same time when he felt someone put an arm around his shoulder. He looked up as Irving Stubbs slid onto the seat beside him.

“No golf today, eh, Jack?” Irving was his next-door neighbor, and, like him, retired. Unlike him, Irving had been an accountant and a member of the chamber of commerce.

“Not unless we play in swim trunks.” Jack looked over his shoulder. Cars were now traveling with their lights on, as if it were midnight instead of 8 a.m.

“I hate days like today,” Irving grumbled as Linda poured him a cup of coffee. “You wake up early, then you look outside and realize you got nowhere to go.”

“Can't you go back to sleep?” asked Jack.

“My eyes open at 6:17 regardless. Been that way since the day I turned seventy.”

Linda put Jack's order, along with his free waffle, down in front of him. Stubbs ordered hash browns and eggs.

“You boys cheer up,” she told them. “This might blow over by noon.”

Jack made a little sandwich—sausage on a piece of toast, covered by an egg, finished off with a splash of Tabasco. As he ate, Irving grew chatty, asking if he and Jan had vacation plans, were they going to the Rotary Club picnic, had they seen the new play in Flat Rock. Jack answered in monosyllables, his thoughts returning to Teresa Ewing's sad, thick file. Finally he wiped his mouth with his napkin.

“You were here in 1989, weren't you?”

“We moved here in '86,” Irving replied. “Why?”

“Oh, just woke up thinking about some old cases I'd worked on. You remember Teresa Ewing?”

“That little girl who was killed over on Salola Street? I was talking about that poor little thing not a week ago.”

“I remember her.” Linda paused as she refilled their coffee cups. “I worked at the Donut Den then. We went on double shifts to keep the volunteers in crullers. I bet we passed out five thousand donuts.” She gave Jack an odd look. “You work that case, Chie
f
?”

He nodded.

She put the coffee pot down and leaned close. “So, who do you think did it?”

“I don't know,” he said softly.

“Remember how one psychic said she was in water? And then another one said two men had taken her to Winslow, Arizona?”

“We got a lot of false leads.”

Linda went on. “After all the psychics crapped out, everybody decided that big retarded boy killed her.”

“It was a tough case.”

Mike looked over his shoulder, eavesdropping from the grill. “They got any new leads?”

Jack emptied his coffee. “Not that I know of. It's still a real cold case.”

“And somebody got away with murder,” said Irving.

Jack stood up and left enough money to cover his breakfast and Linda's usual two-dollar tip. He said good-bye to Irving and headed for the door, back out into a morning that looked like midnight, his left thumb suddenly twitching like mad.

BOOK: A Judgment of Whispers
9.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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