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Can handwriting be faked to make murder look like suicide? Forensic handwriting expert Claudia Rose must answer that question when powerful Hollywood publicist Lindsey Alexander is found dead in a hot tub.

Police are all too willing to believe it’s Lindsey’s handwriting on the scrap of paper they’re calling a suicide note, but not everyone is ready to accept this easy conclusion. Claudia Rose knows first-hand the publicist’s ruthlessness and cruelty, so when Ivan Novak, Lindsey’s business associate, begs her to prove the suicide note a fake, Claudia’s instincts scream at her to run the other way. She hasn’t forgotten how it felt to be humiliated by the best, nor the way Lindsey sabotaged their friend Kelly Brennan’s marriage. But Ivan leans hard, and when she accepts the case, Claudia becomes trapped in a far darker scenario than she bargained for.

Poison Pen

Sheila Lowe

Capital Crime Press
Fort Collins, Colorado

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2007 by Sheila Lowe

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations in critical reviews or articles. For information write to Capital Crime Press, P.O. Box 272904, Fort Collins, CO 80527

First edition published in the United States by Capital Crime Press. Printed in Canada.

Capital Crime Press is a registered trademark.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2006936522

ISBN-13: 978-0-9776276-0-8

ISBN-10: 0-9776276-0-8

www.capitalcrimepress.com

Table of Contents

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Excerpt from
Written in Blood

About the Author

Dedication

This book is dedicated to my brother and friend, Rick Taylor, for being such an excellent writer himself that he inspired me to return to my earliest wish—to write a mystery.

Acknowledgments

Over the long period of time that this book was in development, I asked a lot of questions of a lot of people. I appreciate so much the valuable input of professionals in various fields. Thanks are due my law enforcement buds for their advice on procedure: Kenny Brown, Jeff Hazer, and Scott Young; to Suzanne Bank, feng shui master extraordinaire, for helping with interiors.

Tanya Radic and Doctor John Quinn helped with medical info. Extra special thanks to my dear friend and first editor, Bob Joseph, who freely gave a tremendous amount of time and energy over several drafts, and to editor Ellen Larson, whose (thankfully) brutally honest comments made such a difference in the final polish. Finally of great importance was the input of the Santa Clarita Valley Mystery Writers—you know who you are, and I love you all.

Chapter 1


No,
girlfrien’.” The woman gave an emphatic shake of her head that set elaborately beaded braids swirling. “Dat was
not
her way. Not sui
cide
.”

Claudia Rose figured her for around thirty. High cheekbones in a strikingly handsome face, café au lait skin, athletic frame in a casually elegant Chanel suit. The lilt in her voice suggested West Indies.

Her companion was Wal-Mart Goth. A girl about eighteen in tight, low-slung jeans and a brief top that showed off a pierced navel. Unnaturally black hair cut short and spiky. A tattoo decorated her upper chest: seven daggers thrust into a bloody heart. In the dry-eyed designer-clad crowd, she stood out like a dot of spaghetti sauce on a white dress, weeping into a soggy tissue as though her heart were broken.

“Stop your cryin’.” The beaded woman’s order had a sharp edge to it.

“But I’m
scared,
” the girl said, dashing Claudia’s sympathetic assumption that her tears were for Lindsey Alexander, the woman they had come to bury.

“You
should
be scared, girlfrien’!”

“The cops said she killed herself.”

“De
cops
! I am tellin’
you,
girl, before she come to dis earth, dat one make a pac’ with God how she will go out, and it is not like
dis
.”

“But it could have been an accident... couldn’t it?”

“An acci-
dent
?” The older woman’s tone echoed scornful disbelief. “I say someone
do her in.
Now you stop it, girl! You are makin’ a scene.”

A muddy trail of mascara dribbled down ashy pale cheeks. The tissue shredded and the girl switched to the back of her bare arm.

Claudia dug a clean tissue from her purse and leaned forward to offer it. The girl turned, snatched the tissue with the suspicious glare of a feral cat, and wadded it against the one in her hand. She blew her nose with a loud, wet snuffle, pushed the waterlogged mess into her Levis pocket, then hurried off without a word. Flicking an annoyed glance at Claudia, the older woman followed.

Claudia lifted a brow at her friend, Kelly Brennan, who had also observed the exchange with interest. “Think she could be right?”

“What, that someone killed Lindsey?” Kelly snorted rudely. “Why not? I wanted to kill her myself. Not only me.
Everyone
hated her.”

“That’s cold, Kel. I don’t think anyone hated her enough to
kill
her.”

There was a short silence. “
I
did,” Kelly said, so softly that Claudia almost didn’t hear it.

“You did what? Hate her enough to kill her? There’s a pretty big leap to actually doing it, which is what those women were talking about. Anyway, there was a suicide note, remember?”

Kelly shrugged. “I guess that was good enough for the cops. I wish
you
could’ve taken a look at it.”

Claudia pursed her lips, nodding agreement. Yes, she would definitely have liked to see the note that had been recovered from the floor beside Lindsey’s bathroom Jacuzzi. What handwriting analyst wouldn’t?

Handwriting had been Claudia’s passion since childhood, her career for more years than she cared to count. And it had created the bond between Claudia and Lindsey in college. Both psychology majors, they had opted to specialize in handwriting analysis. Kelly, who had been Claudia’s best friend since the first day of kindergarten, had started out with them, but had gone on to Southwestern and now practiced family law.

It seemed a lifetime ago. They had been close friends, Claudia, Kelly, and Lindsey. Until Lindsey seduced one of Kelly’s boyfriends. The first time, she had seemed genuinely contrite. But over the years, the backstabbing escalated, until finally, her acts of treachery went beyond the point of forgiveness and tore the friendship apart.

What kind of hypocrite am I? Attending the funeral of someone I no longer liked nor respected. What the hell am I doing here?

Exhuming memories better left buried.

Claudia turned to view the fans and paparazzi waiting at the bottom of the hill, an unruly mob decked out in bright T-shirts and shorts, floppy hats, and sunshades, crowded around the largest pair of wrought iron gates in the world. Forest Lawn Memorial Park. A stately convoy of limousines made the turn into the wide driveway, and the mob overflowed onto Glendale Avenue, calling out to their favorite stars, hoping for a glimpse through darkened windows. “This whole damn thing is a Hollywood cliché,” Claudia muttered, leaning close to Kelly’s ear so that no one else might hear.

Kelly made a sound that might have been agreement. “So, where else would you expect Lindsey to be buried?”

“Good point.”

Forest Lawn, where burial plots had names like Babyland, Graceland, and Sweet Memories. Where reproductions of famous statues and other works of art were offered for sale. Where more Hollywood celebrities were buried than anywhere else in the world.

Not that Lindsey Alexander herself had been a celebrity, of course. Having dropped out of handwriting analysis after a few years, she had turned to the public relations field where she could be nearer the limelight. After reaching the height of her career as a publicist, she’d been content to make her famous clients the main attraction.

Kelly stared over the tops of her Gabbana shades at the platoon of CHiPs in golden helmets and jackboots handling crowd control. Petite, girlish for her thirty-nine years, Kelly had eyes the special blue of a summer sky, fringed by artificially long, dark lashes. Her hair was a cap of curls, currently blonde, trimmed a half-inch from her head. She was wearing a little black number that Claudia had last seen on her at a nightclub.

Kelly’s eyes went to a limo easing to the curb fifteen feet away from them. Six matching hunks climbed out, their movements as practiced as if they had rehearsed for a major production. “
Ho-ly shit
,” she breathed. “Talk about star-
studded.

Every last one of Lindsey’s pallbearers was
GQ
cover material. Gathering behind the hearse, they lifted the satin-rubbed mahogany casket to their shoulders, well-toned abs flexing beneath coats designed by Armani, Canali, and Zegna.

Funeral as screen test?

Claudia glanced down at her friend, who was half a head shorter than her own five-seven. “They must be melting in those suits. It’s hot as hell out here,” she said

Kelly’s smile became a smirk. “Well, that’s fitting, don’t you think?” Claudia chose to ignore the remark and began fanning herself with the prayer card she’d picked up in the chapel. The flimsy bit of cardboard had no effect on air as dry and still as the bones beneath the sod. Ninety-eight degrees by noon, the mercury was still rising.

“I could be home right now, working,” Claudia grumbled, wishing she were in her car, the air conditioner cooling her skin, as she drove toward Playa del Reina, the small beach community where she lived,.

“It’s Saturday afternoon, for crying out loud. What’s so pressing that you have to kick your own ass for taking time off for a funeral?”

“I have a court-ordered handwriting analysis to do. They’re using it in a custody issue. A six-year-old kid.”

“Abusive parents?”

“The mother claims the ex-husband takes the little girl in the shower with him.”

Kelly’s face twisted into a grimace. “Well, I know what I’d do with him. I’d give him the knife.”

Claudia gave her an eye roll. “You
would.
Thank god, all I have to do is describe his behavior.”

They fell into step with the well-heeled coterie of mourners, picking their way around the graves. So many deaths represented by the bronze and granite monuments, so many tears.

Claudia’s own inability to dredge up the slightest hint of emotion for Lindsey Alexander bothered her.
What kind of person feels nothing over the death of an old friend?

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