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Elizabeth C. Main - Jane Serrano 01 - Murder of the Month

BOOK: Elizabeth C. Main - Jane Serrano 01 - Murder of the Month
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Elizabeth C. Main - Jane Serrano 01 - Murder of the Month
Jane Serrano [1]
Elizabeth C. Main
Elizabeth C. Main (2005)
Tags:
Mystery: Cozy - Bookstore - Oregon
Mystery: Cozy - Bookstore - Oregonttt
Jane Serrano organized the Murder of the Month Book Club to entice mystery readers into the struggling independent bookstore in Juniper, Oregon, where she worked. How was she to know that the bizarre collection of mystery readers who joined wouldn’t find agreement on anything beyond the club’s name? Or that Bianca, Jane’s flaky 19-year-old daughter, would join the group and promptly accuse the local district attorney of murdering his wife? Her evidence? The plot of a silly mystery novel.
Then Bianca disappeared, leaving Wendell, her beloved one-eyed dog, without food or water. Jane instantly recognized that Bianca had stumbled onto something dangerous. Unable to convince the sheriff that her daughter had been the victim of foul play, Jane set out to find her. Hindered by the inept efforts of her fellow book club members who came armed only with half-baked ideas of solving crimes “by the book,” Jane was caught between fending off her friends and locating her daughter before the killer struck again.
Murder of the Month

by

Elizabeth C. Main

Copyright © 2005 by Elizabeth C. Main

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 any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author, except where permitted by law.

 

Visit the author’s website at
www.elizabethcmain.com

 

 

Dedication

 

 

To

Marie Cole Colasuonno

And

Mel Pearson Lamping

Acknowledgments

 

I thank my family more than I can say for their enthusiastic and unwavering support of my writing career.

I am also grateful to the many friends and relatives who took the time to read and offer suggestions about my manuscript.

And, finally, I’d like to acknowledge Tar, my beloved one-eyed dog who inspired the character of Wendell. Tar was my constant companion when I started writing the novel, and I’m glad he will live on in print, as well as in my memory.

Prologue

 

Vanessa struggled hardly at all in the last moments of her life. Too startled by the unexpected attack to scream, she made no sound as she scrambled for something, anything, to break her fall. Her perfectly-manicured fingers spread like bloody talons, but they grasped nothing but air as she plummeted like a wounded bird three hundred feet to the dusty rocks below.

She made tiny, crablike movements in her futile attempt to crawl away from the ugly death that would soon claim her. Ugliness had never before been a word associated with Vanessa, but soon she’d be found dead, sprawled in an ungainly pose she’d have hated.

Vanessa’s assailant studied the scene below. Yes, everything was coming together nicely. Too bad about the ugliness though. Vanessa would have made an exquisite corpse, her long black hair curved gently around delicately rouged cheeks … if, that is, she hadn’t fallen so far. Now the coffin would have to remain closed.

Vanessa had started the day without even a worry line to mar her lovely, deceitful face. She had come here fully expecting her beauty to get her what she wanted, just as it always had. This time, it didn’t work.

 

 

Chapter 1
 

 

“He killed her! He killed her sure as anything!”

“Bianca? Are you all right?” Dragging myself from the fog of an afternoon nap, I struggled to comprehend my daughter’s words. A whirlwind made better sense than my youngest child, even on a good day, so the task wasn’t as easy as it might seem. I clutched the receiver and bolted upright, my book thudding to the floor as I did so. Its pages remained open to the fourteenth chapter of Making Peace with your Adult Child. After dealing with Bianca all summer, I was even desperate enough to try the pop psychology of best-selling author Raymond Morris.

I repeated, “Are you all right? Just tell me that much.”

“Of course I’m all right,” came the annoyed reply. “What makes you think I’m not? Oh, you’ve been napping again, haven’t you? I should have known. If you’d—”

“Never mind that!” I flung aside the comfortable afghan and interrupted her before she could launch into yet another lecture on my sleeping habits, which inevitably expanded into a lecture on her plan for improving my general health and character. At age forty-two, I held down a job, ate plenty of fruits and vegetables, voted responsibly, and visited the dentist regularly. Surely I was capable of deciding on the proper amount of sleep without my daughter’s help. If only Bianca could see it that way, my life would be much easier. “Who’s dead? What are you talking about?”

“Vanessa Fortune. It’s all over the news. She fell off a cliff in the Crooked River Gorge.”

“That’s awful. How did she—”

“Don’t say she slipped. That’s what he wants everyone to think.” Bianca’s voice deepened dramatically. “She was murdered.”

I’d had enough conversations with my fanciful child to know the importance of pinning down facts before she could dismiss them as irrelevant. “Now, Bianca, before you get carried away, tell me exactly what happened.”

“I’m not the one they’re carrying away. Vanessa is … and I tell you she was murdered!”

I sighed. Raymond Morris’s Rule Number One:
Make each conversation a positive experience
was going to be harder than usual. “Let’s start from the beginning. What makes you think Vanessa was murdered? Did someone see it happen?”

“Well, just the killer. Otherwise, she was out there alone.”

“I see.” Now we were getting somewhere. This was another of Bianca’s unique interpretations of events. “What does Arnie say?” Arnold Kraft, the Russell County sheriff, wasn’t a particularly bright light in Oregon law enforcement, but he was honest and sincere.

Bianca’s unladylike snort told me that she and Arnie differed radically in their assessments of the incident. “What’s he going to say? Gil’s an old football buddy of his.”

I was confused. Why wouldn’t Vanessa’s husband want to get at the truth? “Gil? Well, of course, but so what? Won’t their friendship motivate Arnie?”

“Not if he killed her.”

“Why on earth would Arnie murder Vanessa?”

“Not Arnie … Gil.”

“Gil? That’s ridiculous! You can’t say that.”

“I can if it’s true. I know that he killed—”

“Bianca!”

“See? You won’t even hear me out. Why won’t you listen?”

“Because it’s too improbable to consider, let alone say such a thing.” I glanced uneasily at the smiling picture of Raymond Morris on the cover of his book. In his next edition, he might want to use me as an example of how not to deal with a nineteen-year-old daughter. I was doing my best, but it was tough to sound conciliatory. “Okay, Bianca, I’m listening. What does Arnie think?”

“That it was an accident.”

“And why does he think that?”

“Because she was hiking alone and Gil was supposedly somewhere else—”

“But that’s not enough for you.”

“Arnie doesn’t know what I know.”

“Which is …?”


… that Gil killed Vanessa.”

“This isn’t some murder of the month novel.” My words tumbled out before I remembered Rule Number Three
: In tense situations, say something totally neutral
. I need to read Rule Number Three more often. “Why do you know that Gil killed Vanessa? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”

“So now you’re calling me stupid. That’s great, Mom. Very nurturing.”

“I’m sorry, honey. I shouldn’t have said that, no matter—”

“No matter if it’s true?” Bianca’s voice trembled. “That’s what you meant, isn’t it?”

She was jumping to conclusions, but she didn’t deserve to be talked to that way. I was supposed to be the adult here. “I was going to say, no matter if we disagree. I’m truly sorry, Bianca, for what I said. Please, tell me what you think.”

“Yeah, right. You’re just humoring me now, but maybe someone at book club will listen. Vanessa’s death is totally like the book I want us to read next.”

“How?” I asked faintly. Bianca’s favorite mystery fiction was a popular series that featured two dogs as detectives. Fortunately, she hadn’t yet convinced the rest of our book club to waste time on them.

“I’ll explain at book club.”

Alarm bells clanged in my head. Did I really want Bianca to be talking to others about this nonsense? “Why don’t you come over here now and we’ll talk this out?”

“No thanks. You had your chance to be the first to hear.”

I recognized that determined tone, but tried one more time. “I’ll make a … tofu stir fry, with fresh broccoli. We’ll have a nice, quiet evening here, skip the meeting—”

“Why would I want to spend the evening with someone who thinks I’m stupid?”

“Please, I said I was sorry about that.”

“You’re always sorry afterward, but you always forget.”

True enough. Raymond Morris could write an entire book about my failures as a mother. “Well, I’m sorry that I’m always sorry. I don’t know what else to say.”

“It’s okay, Mom. I know you mean well.” It was a good thing that Bianca had a forgiving nature. I was a trial to her, but she kept hoping to whip me into shape. “I’ll see you later. This is bigger than you know.”

That’s what I was afraid of. “At least promise that you won’t say anything to anyone else until I arrive.”

“Okay, I can do that. By the way, that’s a good idea.”

“Not saying anything? I agree!”

“No, the other one. The name for our book club. I can’t believe we didn’t think of it before: Murder of the Month. It’s perfect.”

Rule Number Seven:
Agree whenever you can
. Finally, something I could manage. “Right. It’s perfect.”

“Of course,” Bianca continued thoughtfully, “we usually just read about fictional murders, but Vanessa is a real person and she’s really dead. I’m not making that up.”

“Well, no, but that doesn’t mean—”

“And he killed her.”

Rule Number Ten:
Stay quiet when nothing you say will improve the situation
. It’s a useful rule, particularly when dealing with Bianca.

Exhausted as always after talking to her, I sank back onto the couch as soon as we hung up. If I could transfuse about ten percent of her energy into my veins, I could run marathons with energy to spare, but mostly I wanted to strangle her, though of course a mother can’t ever admit that out loud. If her call hadn’t startled me, I’d have found some way to avoid letting her know I’d been taking a nap. I’d learned all too well that it was best to hide from my three kids the number of hours I disposed of through sleep. They might be separated by geography, age, and interests, but they were in accord about the perceived need to “do something about Mom” after their father’s death one year, two months, and ten days ago. Not that I’d ever be foolish enough to tell them I still kept track of the exact number of days since Tony’s plane crash. If I did tell them, they would only take it as yet another sign that I wasn’t adjusting well.

Mourning Tony’s loss after twenty-three years of a good marriage was a slow, untidy process. It wasn’t as simple as stowing sweaters in a bottom drawer at the approach of summer. I wasn’t really fooling the kids even when I didn’t say anything about being sad, of course. They knew I wasn’t back to normal yet, and it made them nervous. Recently they had started making oh-so-casual suggestions about terrific activities I should try, like bowling or painting in watercolors. I loved them for their thoughtfulness, but sometimes it seemed more like nagging. When my sadness surfaced now and then over something as simple as a fondness for afternoon naps, it stirred them up again and the telephone wires hummed. I was sure that Bianca would call both of her sisters—Susannah in Minnesota and Emily in Peru—before the day was over.

BOOK: Elizabeth C. Main - Jane Serrano 01 - Murder of the Month
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