Authors: L.L. Bartlett
|Jeff Resnick |
For Jeff Resnick, the trouble starts with a near-death experience.
Brenda's family comes to visit and one of them reminds Jeff of the thugs
who mugged him. His brother has taken possession of an expensive boat.
The yacht holds a deadly secret, one destined to turn his world upside
down. Will Jeff solve the puzzle before his vision of near death becomes
A near death experience is only the beginning of Jeff Resnick’s troubles. Brenda’s family comes to town, but one of them, a nephew who reminds Jeff of the thugs who mugged him, has unsettled him. He's on edge. The fact that his brother has taken possession of an expensive boat through an IRS auction takes his mind off the bad vibes he's getting from other relatives. But that yacht holds a deadly secret, one destined to turn his world upside down. Will Jeff figure out the puzzle before his vision of near death becomes a reality?
A Jeff Resnick Mystery
By L.L. Bartlett
Copyright © 2013 by L.L. Bartlett. All rights reserved.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author.
The Jeff Resnick Mysteries
Murder On The Mind
Dead In Red
Room At The Inn
Cheated By Death
Bound By Suggestion
When The Spirit Moves You
Abused: A Daughter’s Story
My thanks go to Leann Sweeney for her advice and for sharing her knowledge on a number of subjects, and to my first reader, Dru Ann Love. I struggled with a title for this book, but my friend Jennifer Stanley (aka Ellery Adams) suggested Dark Waters, which was perfect. Many thanks to Pat Ryan Graphics for my beautiful cover; and to Frankly Graphics for formatting the trade paperback edition.
The air encircling me was alive, icy pinpricks of energy penetrating every inch of my body and soul. The wind whipped through my hair as I spiraled higher, higher, racing through inky darkness, drawn to a blinding white light that pulsed like a beating heart.
Below me yawned a black, fathomless abyss — the end of everything.
My gaze swung back to the light, filling me with increasing trepidation. Did the light hold salvation or damnation?
Confusion swelled within me. This was wrong, very, very wrong. My panic escalated until it was almost unbearable.
The light above me swelled with sickening speed, getting larger, becoming a super nova that exploded in a dazzling flash of deadly radiation. It ripped me apart, leaving me nothing but billions of scattered molecules destined to float through the vast cosmic nothingness.
Someone grabbed me under the arms, pulling — yanking — me away from the light.
Back to safety.
Back to life.
Calling my name.
Bringing me back from the brink.
Warm fingers encircled my wrist, grounding me in reality.
“He’s breathing better now,” said the same voice, one I knew well and trusted.
I opened my eyes and saw my brother Richard’s concerned face above me and thought, with great annoyance,
My eyes slid shut and I did a physical assessment. My back hurt — like I’d been whacked by a plank. My right hand throbbed in time with my heartbeat, the palm stung.
Oh, yeah. I’d been talking to Richard’s wife, Brenda, not paying attention as I deadheaded annuals in the window boxes. I’d grabbed a buzzing bee instead of a withered pansy. I’d stared at my hand and watched in shock as the sting quickly reddened and transformed from a speck to a welt. Then I was sweating and cold on that hot, early fall afternoon. The world wobbled, the sky tilting as I’d fallen off the bottom rung of the stepladder.
“Jeffy?” It was Brenda this time, her voice worried.
I opened my eyes again and looked around me, avoiding their worried gazes, and looked down. The creamy, hand-crocheted cashmere afghan from their living room had been tossed across my chest. Dappled sunlight wavered through the oak leaves above me. A cushion of cool grass lay beneath me.
Physically, I was quickly recovering. Mentally, I was as embarrassed as hell.
“I didn’t know you were allergic to bee stings,” Richard said.
“Neither did I,” I croaked. My throat still felt constricted. “How much do I owe you for services rendered?”
“House calls don’t come cheap,” my physician brother said, distracted, as he packed up his gear.
“Since we’re in your backyard, you didn’t have far to go.”
“Lucky for you,” he said. “Are you feeling better?”
“Well, you scared the hell out of me,” a very pregnant Brenda said, sounding annoyed. “And now we’re going to be late.”
She wasn’t unconcerned for my welfare — one look in her deep-brown eyes told me that. But she had other things on her mind on that particular afternoon.
I glanced at my watch. Her sister Evelyn’s plane was due in less than thirty minutes.
“You’d better go without me,” Richard said, brushing the knees of his grass-stained, beige Dockers. “Jeff shouldn’t be left alone just yet.”
“I’m fine,” I insisted, and what’s more, I pretty much was.
“Not bad,” Brenda agreed, “considering you nearly died five minutes ago.”
I struggled to my feet. “You’re exaggerating. I just had the wind knocked out of me when I hit the ground.” In fact, the only outward sign of my ordeal was the puffy skin on the palm of my right hand.
Brenda gathered up her purse, cell phone, and car keys from the grass nearby. Richard helped her to her feet. She gave me a quick hug, and I soaked in her relief for me and growing anxiety for what else was to come.
“I’m sorry, Brenda.”
“Hush up,” she said, gave my cheek a quick peck, then turned to give Richard a proper kiss before she headed for the dark Mercedes parked in the drive.
We watched as she backed out, and then headed toward Main Street.
I bent to pick up my pruning shears. “I’m sorry I messed up her day.”
“It’s probably better that she goes alone.”
“I’d better finish — ”
Richard put a hand out to stop me. “No more gardening today. And not until we get you tested for allergies.”
“I feel fine,” I protested.
He grabbed the bushel basket of culled, dead blossoms I’d been working to fill. “Come on, let’s go inside.”
Richard headed for the driveway, but I lagged behind and shaded my eyes as I looked up at the bright sun overhead. It wasn’t half as piercing as the light in my ... dream? Vision?
Not nearly as scary, either.
The beveled leaded glass windows of Richard’s study acted like prisms, thanks to the late afternoon sun coming through them. The antique grandfather clock ticked loudly, measuring out the hours in a steady rhythm.
“It was weird,” I said and popped the antihistamine into my mouth, swallowing it with a sip of the tepid water Richard had given me. I sank back into the cool leather wing chair in his study.
“Sounds like a classic near-death experience,” Richard commented dryly, and sampled his Scotch. He sat perched on the edge of his big mahogany desk, which dominated the north end of the room. It didn’t seem fair that he got Scotch when I was the one who’d had the traumatic experience.
“Yeah, but I thought you were supposed to find peace and comfort in the light, welcomed by your long-dead relatives, yada, yada, yada. If that’s a sample of what’s to come, I’m not going.”
He smiled wryly, and then sobered. “Seriously, Jeff, you went into anaphylactic shock. The way your hand swelled means this isn’t the first time you’ve been stung. Next time, you could die.”
I ignored his probable death sentence. “Well, I don’t remember it ever happening before.” It was lame, but an honest answer. Since I got mugged some eighteen months before, suffering a fractured skull and what the attending quack blithely called a “little brain damage,” there was a lot from my past that I didn’t remember. And the injury had not only left me with often crippling headaches, but damnably annoying empathic abilities. Some people called me psychic. I called myself unfortunate.
“You ought to get started on allergy shots right away to desensitize you. Otherwise, no more gardening.”
“Allergy shots? Those are for snot-nosed — ” did
fit the description? “ — wimps.”
“Being allergic does not make you a wimp. Not getting the shots makes you criminally stupid.”
“Then hand me a dunce cap.”
“I hope you’re not serious,” Richard said.
“Couldn’t you give them to me? Or maybe Brenda?”
Richard frowned. “You’re not afraid, are you?”
“It’s not fear of injections it’s — ” God, I didn’t want to discuss this. I looked away. “I just don’t like needles.”
“I don’t think we’re talking needles. I think you’re talking trust.”
I couldn’t meet his gaze, but, yeah, he was right. After what I’d been through these last couple of years, there were only two people on the planet I trusted implicitly: Richard and Brenda. I loved Maggie, my lady of nearly eighteen months, but after she’d dumped me earlier that summer — before the guy she thought she loved turned out to be a class A heel — I wasn’t sure I could ever fully trust her again, though I was more than willing to try.
“I’ve got things to do,” I said, getting up from the chair.
“Oh, no,” Richard said, pushing me back down again. “Not after what happened out in the yard. You may not be out of the woods yet, and I want to keep an eye on you. It’s possible the symptoms could reoccur. You can stay in your old room tonight. Then tomorrow we’ll find you an allergist.”
I let out a breath. I trusted Richard. I trusted his medical judgment where I might not trust others. “Okay.”
Thundering footsteps on the parquet floor echoed outside in the hall. We both shot looks at the grandfather clock across the room. Brenda had been gone less than an hour.
“She’s here,” Brenda called as she approached, her voice unusually high. She stopped in the study doorway. “The flight came in early, and Evelyn brought a surprise.”
“Uh-oh,” Richard muttered, his face going slack. He was on his feet, meeting Brenda halfway. An elegant, older black lady joined Brenda just inside the door. Impeccably dressed in a dark suit and a dove-gray blouse, her short straightened hair was streaked with strands of white. Evelyn Mason looked every inch a high school principal, albeit newly retired: damned intimidating.
“Evelyn,” Richard said, sounding pleased. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, then hugged her.
“It’s good to see you again, Richard,” she said stiffly — and without sincerity.
“And here’s the surprise,” Brenda said. “This is Da-Marr, Evelyn’s nephew.”
I stood, my calves pressed against the chair to keep me upright, trepidation settling over me like a smothering cloak once more.
A young black man stood in the doorway. Dressed in dark, baggy pants and an equally baggy white shirt, his head was covered in a pink do rag, and heavy gold hoop earrings hung from both ears. He reached out and shook hands with Richard.
“Hey, man. I heard a lot about you.” He looked past Richard to me.
My gut tightened.
“Evelyn, Da-Marr, this is my brother, Jeff Resnick,” Richard said.
My gaze met Da-Marr’s.
My mind flashed to the cold March night some eighteen months before.
The baseball bat came at me.
My arm shot up in a defensive move. The bone cracked — a compound fracture — sending skyrockets of pain up my arm.
The bat swung toward me again, whanged into my skull.
I fell to my knees on the cold, wet concrete.
My cheek slammed onto the icy cement.
I tried to raise myself.
The bat smashed against my temple.
My universe went black.
Richard caught my arm and kept me from keeling over.
Heart pounding, the breath caught in my throat — I couldn’t get enough air. Pin prickles of ebony danced before my eyes.
Richard shoved me back into my chair, pushing my head down to my knees. Blood roared in my ears. “Breathe,” he ordered, grasping my wrist to take my racing pulse. “You’re going to an allergist tomorrow. No arguments.”
But it wasn’t anaphylaxis that had my guts tied in knots.
It was pure and simple terror.