Death in Glenville Falls sample chapters

I am happy to offer readers the first two chapters of my debut novel, DEATH IN GLENVILLE FALLS: A Gracie McIntyre Mystery, for your perusal. You can purchase it through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, or your local bookstore. 

Award Voters: This book is eligible for nominations for cozy/traditional mystery, contemporary novel, or debut novel awards for publications in 2017.

Description

Early September is a time for new beginnings in a college town, and Gracie McIntyre braces for hers.

Gracie left the practice of law eighteen years ago, after losing a client to an apparent murder/suicide. Since then, she's been a stay-at-home mom and part-time professor at the local college. Now that her son has gone off to university and her daughter has started high school, she is ready for a new adventure. But opening a new-and-used book shop gives her more than she bargains for.

Days after her grand opening, she finds a threatening message outside her door. When she refuses to heed the warning, violence escalates. What's worse, she suspects a police officer might be the culprit. She soon realizes she's on her own to find a way to save her store--and possibly her life.

Featuring a cast of memorable characters, and bringing together a love of books, New England charm, and the challenge of a good puzzle, DEATH IN GLENVILLE FALLS will keep you turning pages right up to the surprising conclusion.

CHAPTER ONE

~

Eighteen years ago

 

As soon as Gracie McIntyre pulled up to the farmhouse, she knew she was too late. The front door hung wide open, and the screen dangled from one hinge. Dave had been there.

Her stomach twisted as she got out of her car and removed her suit jacket. The late-July heat and humidity had abated, leaving the early evening in a soporific haze. A hint of a breeze carried the summer smells of earth and grass. All was quiet except for the cicadas rattling in the hilltop trees on the other side of the corn patch and the lowing of cattle in some distant field. No sirens. No voices.

Her client’s rusted Plymouth sat on the gravel drive. Edging alongside, Gracie saw the full ashtray, the cardboard pine tree hanging from the mirror, and the infant car seat—much like the one in Gracie’s car.

Caution told her to wait for the police, but concern for her client drew her inside. Gracie believed that, despite her modest height, if Dave were still there, she could summon the authority of her profession, and convince even a big, angry man to back off.

 She swept back a few strands of sandy hair that had loosened from her French braid. As she stepped across the driveway, pebbles crunched under the black pumps she had worn to court. She grimaced wishing she had changed into sneakers.

The setting sun reflected off the front windows. Shading her brow with her hand, Gracie tried to peer past the glare for clues of what might wait for her inside, but detected no movement—no sound. Stepping onto the covered porch, past a bench swing that hung from rusted chains, she rapped on the open door. No response.

“Hello?” she croaked. Clearing her throat, she knocked louder, straining to hear a cough, a movement, a breath inside. Still nothing.

Good. Cheryl got out in time. Even as that thought formed, the annoying voice in her head asked, But where did she go without her car?

Maybe she ran out into the corn. She knew it was a long shot. Corn fields were good places to hide in the autumn when the stalks reached well over anyone's head, but in New England, corn was only “knee-high by the Fourth of July.” Not tall enough to conceal a person's progress through the field. Dave could have followed her. He could easily outrun her. Then another thought surfaced and she choked. Looking over at the field, she tried not to imagine Dave crouching there, watching her.

She stepped over the threshold. Despite the lingering heat of the day, Gracie's skin tingled as if it were electrified. Peering around the doorway into the living room, Gracie saw a shaft of sunlight, alive with dust, slant across the room. A chair lay on its side, and shards of what might once have been a vase lay on the hearth. A copper-colored spark, lit up by the setting sun, drew her attention to a desk. She shook off a shiver when she realized it was the ragged end of the phone cord, ripped from the wall.

As she moved toward the back of the house, a large fly buzzed past her ear. Gracie jumped back as she watched it head for the kitchen. Clearing her throat, she tried to call out for Cheryl, but her voice failed her. Her knees felt about to follow suit, but she drew in a calming breath, squared her shoulders, and pressed on.

There was an odd taste in the air. Something metallic. 

Turning the corner into the kitchen, she found Cheryl.

~

“So, you got a call from the deceased telling you that her husband was in the house?” the uniformed officer asked Gracie. Dusk had fallen, and swirling red and blue lights made intersecting patterns on the white clapboard house. They stood outside a taped-off area, awaiting the arrival of the detective and medical examiner.

“Yes.” Gracie nodded. “I helped her get a restraining order against him earlier today.”

“Yeah, we got a copy,” Officer Johnson said. “Sheriff served it this afternoon, confiscated the firearms, escorted him from the premises. He said the guy went quietly, but it looks like it pushed him over the edge.”

“A restraining order is supposed to prevent scenes like this, not cause them,” Gracie said, a note of accusation in her voice.

Getting the protective order had been routine. Cheryl told the judge how Dave would brood for days, then come home drunk and blame her for everything wrong in his life. Things would have been great, he would say, if she hadn't gotten herself knocked up. He could have taken that track scholarship and gone to college, but because of her he had to stay in Glenville-Freakin'-Falls in the middle of Nowhere, Massachusetts, saddled with a lousy wife and a screaming kid.

Then he would hit her. He would always apologize afterward, but in a few days or weeks the cycle would begin again.

Cheryl‘s mom had moved to Boston after they eloped, and the old Plymouth wouldn’t make it that far, even if Cheryl had money for gas. There was never enough money for anything, except for Dave to get wasted. So Cheryl went to see Gracie who took the case for free.

The officer pointed to the house with his pen. “Seems he used one of the kitchen knives. Looks like one’s missing from the set.”

Gracie felt her scalp prickle. What would have happened if Dave had still been there when she arrived? Would he have turned on her, too? Would there now be two motherless infants?

“I told her to spend the night somewhere else. This farm is too remote.” Gracie’s lip trembled, and she turned away from the officer, pretending to be distracted by a passing car. The driver slowed to gaze at the farmhouse before driving on. “She said she would stay in town with a friend.”

“Got a name or address?”

“No, sorry.” Gracie chastised herself for the oversight. “Anyway, she called me and said she left the baby with her friend and came back to the house for something, and then she heard him coming after her.”

“Were those her exact words?” He swatted at a mosquito.

Gracie wrinkled her forehead. “Not quite. She said she heard him on the porch . . . and that he must have followed her.”

“She heard him on the porch? Was he knocking on the door, or was he yelling, or what?”

Gracie shook her head. “I'm not sure.” Her eyes darted to the damaged door.

“Could you hear anything, any voices or other noises coming over the phone?”

 She squinted her eyes, replaying the brief conversation. “No.” The air had cooled, but she wiped sweat from her brow and folded her arms across her chest. “I just told her to hang up and call 911 right away. Then I raced over here.” Gracie tried to swallow the rock in her throat. “I thought you would be here ahead of me.”

“First call we got was from you.”

Gracie shook her head at having left her new mobile phone at the office. It had taken all the composure she could muster to drive to a gas station pay phone and notify the police. Then she called Spencer. She needed to hear his voice and know that he and their baby were safe. Every cell in her body told her to go home, but duty sent her back to the farmhouse to wait for the authorities.

“You look a little pale. You okay? You wanna sit down?” The officer nodded toward the cruiser.

“I’m okay. It’s just . . . I’m a civil lawyer.” She looked down at the grass. “I’m not used to this.”

“Me neither,” the officer said. His voice was so quiet Gracie wasn’t sure he meant for her to hear.

The police radio squawked and the officer picked up the call. Gracie walked back to her car and sat down sideways in the driver’s seat. Weary, nauseated, and a little light-headed, she ached for the security of her home, the comfort of her husband, and the innocence of their child. She leaned forward on her elbows, folded her hands, and hung her head.

“That was dispatch,” Officer Johnson called to her. “Looks like the husband offed hisself,” he said, scratching his ear. ”They found his body up at the waterfall. That oughta make this easier to wrap up.”

Gracie swallowed, uncertain how the battle with her stomach would end. Hiding her face behind both hands, she had only one thought: I can't do this anymore.

 

CHAPTER TWO

~

Present day

 

Early September is a time for new beginnings in a college town, and Gracie McIntyre braced for hers. In just one day, the town would transform from a sleepy, New England hamlet of just over 4000 residents into a bustling college town with the arrival of 1600 Glenville College students. And Gracie was ready—or almost so. Having just returned from a trip to Pennsylvania to drop her son Ben off for his freshman year of college, she couldn’t wait to start her own adventure.

Armed with her to-do list, she checked off items as she, her husband Spencer Adams, and their fourteen-year-old daughter Carrie, walked the short distance from their century-old home on Elm Street toward the center of the village of Glenville Falls.

“There’s only a couple more things to do to before tonight’s Grand Opening,” Gracie said, checking her list.

“I know. I’m picking up the signs from the Quill Pen,” said Carrie, “and placing them in the holders above the book shelves.”

“Right,” Gracie said. “And Spencer?”

“I’m getting the food trays from the Steaming Kettle,” he said with a salute. His eyes sparkled behind his owlish glasses, under a thinning fringe of graying brown hair.

“Okay. And I’m getting the balloons from Posies. Then we’ll all meet back at the store. Got it?”

“Got it,” Carrie and her dad said in unison.

Turning onto Commonwealth Avenue, Gracie looked down the wide, tree-lined street that wound around the village green to the town hall. 

“I’m so glad the shop is here in town instead of that hole in the wall Lois Heller tried to get me to rent at the Pocumtuc Mall.”

“She probably would have gotten a bigger commission if you’d rented there,” Spencer reminded her.

“Maybe that’s why she pushed so hard,” Gracie said with a laugh. “But I like being right on the town common. And who but Hal Doyle would have put as much effort into sprucing up the place for a new tenant?”

Spencer shrugged. “I’m off to the Steaming Kettle.” He jaywalked toward the café that featured a three-dimensional teapot on the roof, pumping steam into the autumnal sky.

“Okay—it’s over to Posies for me.” Gracie gave her daughter a hug.

“See you in a few,” Carrie said, as she marched on toward the town’s art supply and print shop. All those businesses, along with Doyle’s Hardware, owned by Gracie’s landlord, Hal Doyle, flanked the lower end of the village green known as “the Triangle.”

Many townspeople, like Gracie, felt that the three-sided open space was a full-fledged part of the town common, even though it was separated by Chestnut Street from the larger rectangular section. It had the same gas street lamps, the same park benches, and the blue spruce that served as the town Christmas tree. Others insisted that “The Common” was just the rectangle with the war memorial obelisk, Revolutionary War canon, and gazebo-style band stand. The triangle, in their opinion, just didn’t count. The nomenclature had become a dispute of some importance over the years.

Gracie crossed to the pink Victorian home that housed Posies, the town’s flower shop, stepping over the familiar sidewalk chalk messages, welcoming new students, that had started to blossom on nearby concrete. School-aged children played touch football on the common, while two older men sat on a nearby park bench, arguing about the Red Sox’s chances of making the playoffs. A sense of well-being replaced her anxiety. Owning a bookstore was going to be fun.

Potted mums in a riot of colors lined the shop’s wide porch, and she took the wooden steps two at a time before entering the cool showroom.

“Hi, I have your order ready.” Peggy Kowalski ducked into her back room when she saw Gracie enter. “I really hate these things,” she said, trying to force a dozen bouncing, helium-filled balloons back through the doorway all at once.

Gracie laughed. “I want to give them out to the kids who come to tonight’s opening.”  She braced for a loud pop if one got too close to the lit cigarette perpetually dangling from Peggy’s lips. So much for the indoor smoking ban.

After a bit of juggling, Peggy handed the knotted strings to Gracie. “You already paid, so you’re all set.”

“Thanks, Peggy. Will I see you this evening?”

“Nope. I hate crowds,” she said, shaking her head. “Give me some nice, quiet plants for company anytime.”

Gracie tried out her shopkeeper’s smile. “Well, maybe sometime soon, then. We have a pretty good gardening section.”

Peggy shrugged.

Gracie was the first one back to the shop. She fumbled with her keys and wrangled the balloons through the door, but not without first taking a long, admiring gaze at her bay window display.

As she entered, she took one last look around at the shop she had spent weeks preparing. Coming off the side wall was an L-shaped oak counter near the entry. Built-in oak bookshelves lined the walls, while shorter ones divided the remaining space into small reading areas. Each nook offered books of different genres. Overstuffed chairs—left behind by the building’s previous tenant—were strategically located for comfortable browsing, and stood on well-worn oriental rugs. Where the hardwood floor was left uncovered, it was so richly polished that the lights hanging from the high, pressed-tin ceiling reflected in its grain. Set deep into the back wall was the children’s section with shorter, built-in shelving. Cut-outs of storybook characters hung against brightly painted panels, and stuffed animal “reading buddies” sat expectantly in beanbag chairs. Past doors to a rest room and to Gracie’s office was an open space with upholstered chairs and a table display of items of local interest. It included Glenville College paraphernalia, and some signed books by local authors—most of whom, like Spencer, were professors up at the school.

“I have to admit, it’s gorgeous,” she said to herself as she tied the balloons to cup hooks she had placed under the back edge of the counter. Then she heard the shop bell over the door ring out. Carrie had returned with the signs.

“There’s a note taped to each bookcase, saying what sign it needs,” Gracie said, reaching for half the stack. “If we work together, we can finish in no time.”

“Okay,” Carrie said, getting to work.

Just then, Gracie heard a thump, thump, thump. She looked over to see Spencer kicking the door, his hands occupied by two, domed deli trays—one with veggies and dip and the other with finger sandwiches.

Gracie raced over to open up. “I ordered more than two trays,” she said as Spencer entered and slid them onto the counter.

“I know.” He nodded toward the entry.

A man, dressed all in white, carried four more trays with less effort than Spencer had with two.

“Let’s put the fruit and cheese tray here.” Gracie took it from the top of the stack. “The others can go in the back until we need them.”

The  man  obliged,  following  Gracie  to  the  rear  of  the  store.

“It’s a good thing there is a kitchenette back here with a full-sized refrigerator,” she said, opening the door to her office.

The man put the trays in the fridge and turned toward Gracie who handed him a tip. Then he left without a word.

“Not much of a talker, is he?” Gracie said to Spencer.

“Yeah. He’s new over there,” Spencer said. “Name’s DJ, but I didn’t get the impression he was particularly musical.” He chuckled at his own joke while Gracie rolled her eyes. “Oh, Kelly sends her best wishes for success tonight. She said if it gets slow at the Kettle, she and Sean will try to pop over.”

“Wonderful.” Gracie checked the time on the antique regulator clock hanging near the entry. “Twenty minutes to seven. We have to get the signs up.”

“I’ll just take care of opening up the food trays,” Spencer said.

“No, let’s leave them closed until the last minute.”

“But we haven’t had dinner, and I’m hungry.”

“Wait until people come.”

“Aren’t we people?”

“Be good,” she scolded.

Spencer grinned, and she turned to the bookshelves to begin placing signs, fairly certain that Spencer would be nibbling behind her back. Carrie was nearly done with her signs and took half of Gracie’s share. Within minutes they were finished.

“I’m taking a picture of this,” Carrie said, raising her cell phone. Gracie knew it would end up on one of the social media sites Carrie enjoyed, and that was very much okay with her. The free publicity could only help.

The shop bell rang, and Gracie turned to see Del Turner, her best friend and former law partner, enter the store. Her face shone with the exertion of having walked from her law office across the green. A Virginian by birth, Del had come to Boston for law school where she and Gracie met early in their first year. They hit it off immediately, and had remained close friends through the years since. They made quite a study in contrast with Gracie’s pale Scottish skin tone and petite build to Del’s deep brown complexion and what she called “big bones.”

“Hi, all,” Del said, her brown eyes sparking.

“Hi, Auntie Del,” Carrie said, giving the large woman a quick hug before taking another photo.

“Welcome,” Gracie said as she placed paper plates, cups, and napkins near the food trays. “Thanks again for fixing up the front window this afternoon. It looks great.”

“I have to protect my investment in this little venture, don’t I?” Del said in the slight drawl that charmed juries. “I tell you, I should have been a window dresser. Then no one would complain when I said I worked with dummies.”

Gracie groaned.

“Say, what do you have there, Spence?” Del waggled her eyebrows as she inspected the food trays. Gracie saw Spencer wince at Del’s shortening of his name. No one called him “Spence” except for Del, who called him nothing else.

“Hello, Adelaide,” Spencer said, using the full name they all knew Del hated almost as much as he despised “Spence.” Gracie couldn’t understand why two people she loved so well did not appreciate each other more.

Then, apparently sensing a potential ally, Spencer asked, “Have you had dinner yet?”

“Nope,” Del said. “I saved my appetite for tonight. Hope you’ve got plenty.”

“We do. Just look,” he said, taking the lids off the deli trays. “And there’s more in the back.”

“It’s a losing battle,” Gracie said, putting pitchers of drinks on the counter. “Okay, go ahead, but don’t let the trays look picked-over.”

“We’ll be careful,” Spencer promised, crossing his heart.

“I think we’re ready, with a few minutes to spare,” Gracie said. “I only wish Ben could be here.”

“Why?” Carrie said, looking a little hurt.

“Because, honey, I want to share special moments in my life with the ones I love, and that includes your big brother.”

Carrie looked only slightly appeased. “But his college classes started earlier than they do here,” she said.

“I know. And I know he’s happy going to school in Pennsylvania, but that doesn’t keep me from missing him and wishing he weren’t so far away.”

Gracie ignored Carrie’s grimace. Sometimes she was such a teenager.

Before Del and Spencer could do too much damage to the food trays, the town hall clock struck seven, and the bell over the door jingled. Gracie’s stomach did a flip-flop. Her first customer.

She turned to see Wendell Owens, the portly owner, publisher, and editor of the Glenville Falls Gazette, push through the door, a camera dangling from his neck.

“Welcome to Gracie’s Garret New and Used Books.”

“Congratulations, Gracie,” Wendell said, handing her a bottle of champagne tied with a red bow. “Am I early?”

“Thanks, Wendell. No, you’re right on time. It’s the rest of the town that’s late.” Gracie’s nervous laugh escaped before she could stop it. 

“I’m happy to see you up and running. It doesn’t do the town any good to have an empty store front, you know,” Wendell said, eyeing the display of food arranged on the counter.

“Thanks, Wendell,” Gracie said. Taking the hint, she added, “Would you like something to eat?” She shifted her glance to the door as more townspeople entered, greeted by Del.

“Don’t mind if I do,” Wendell rubbed his hands together, looking the array over carefully before heaping food onto a paper plate. “Are you pleased with your ad in this week’s Gazette?” he asked, picking up a finger sandwich. “It looks great, if I say so myself. I’m glad you decided to put in that coupon. I’m sure it will help bring people in.”

“I love it, Wendell. I wouldn’t have thought of it without your help.”

Their new neighbors, the Antonello family, arrived with their four children. Nick was Spencer’s new colleague in the history department at Glenville College, and Sharona worked at the town library.

While Spencer welcomed the parents, Carrie greeted their eldest child, Angela, as if it had been weeks since they had seen each other, despite having spent much of the day together at the town swimming pool. They were making the most of their last few days of freedom before their first day of high school on the day after Labor Day—just four days away. 

“You mind if I take a few photos this evening for next Thursday’s edition?” Wendell regained Gracie’s attention as he brushed a crumb from the top of his camera.

“Please do. I can use all the publicity I can get.”

Gracie turned to see to some more arrivals when she felt a tug on her slacks. She looked down to find the youngest Antonello looking up at her. The girl’s two older brothers stood nearby with conspiratorial grins on their faces.

“Where’s your carrot?” the little girl asked.

Gracie looked at the child. “My carrot?”

“Yeah.  Where’s ‘Gracie’s Carrot’?”

“Oh, Maria. Don’t be silly,” Sharona Antonello said coming up to take the child by the hand. “The store is called ‘Gracie’s Garret,’ not ‘Gracie’s carrot.’” Then Sharona looked at her two sons snickering behind their hands. “Did you two put her up to that?” Their laughter bubbled over.

Gracie knelt down to the child’s height. “Well, Maria, when I was about four . . .”

“I’m five,” Maria corrected her.

Oh, I beg your pardon. Well, when I was five, if I heard somebody say ‘garret’ I would have thought they said, ‘carrot,’ too. But this is ‘Gracie’s Garret’, and a garret is . . .” Gracie whispered, and the boys leaned in to hear. “A garret is a sort of attic.”

“Then, where’s your garret?” Maria persisted.

“It’s all around you. Many of these books came from bookshelves in my attic . . . and my living room . . . and my kitchen. They came from all over my house, actually.” Gracie laughed, a little embarrassed by her book-hoarding gene, inherited from her father, shared by her husband, and passed on to their children. Opening the bookstore seemed a good way to deal not just with an emptying nest, but with a house over-filled with books.

“So, they’re all old?” Maria wrinkled her nose.

“No. Most of them are new. But, yes, some of them are very old, very dear friends. And I think you might find one of my old friends could be a new friend to you,” Gracie said, tapping the girl’s nose. “Why don’t you go look and see if you can find something interesting over there?” Gracie pointed to the children’s section, and Maria bounded over. Her brothers watched, and finally followed.

Sharona shook her head. “Sometimes those boys . . .”

The bell rang again. Hal Doyle, Gracie’s landlord and commercial neighbor arrived. His thinning hair was smoothed across his scalp and he’d replaced his usual hardware store attire of a worn plaid shirt and paint-stained pants with a white oxford shirt and grey slacks. He bowed slightly toward Gracie, and looked around as if he had never been in the building before.

“Oh, this is wicked nice, Gracie. It looks real good.” He spoke in a near whisper, and appeared about as comfortable as a shy kindergartener on the first day of school.

“Thanks to you, Hal. I could never have done this without the bookshelves you built and the furniture Ollie left behind when he closed his used furniture shop.”

“Say, where did those rugs come from? Were they Ollie’s, too?”

“Oh, no. They were my grandmother’s. We McIntyres never throw anything away.”

“They make it feel real nice and homey in here,” said Hal, who would never criticize saving things. The whole town knew the back room of his hardware store was full of broken items and miscellaneous parts that, as he said, “I might be glad I have someday.”

Gracie realized that town folk and college people might not know each other, so she made a round of introductions as the bell over the door rang again. Soon many more neighbors and college friends came to inspect the new business. The bean bags were a hit with the kids, and Ollie’s upholstered chairs soon filled with grown-ups. Gracie felt torn in several directions, having to keep the food trays filled, trying to greet each new visitor, and wanting to help all of her potential customers at once.

“I’ll see to the refreshments,” Del whispered. “You just see to the customers.”

Gracie mouthed a “thank you,” and mingled with her guests.

In the middle of the evening, Spencer found her. “It’s going well. You forget how many friends we have in this town, don’t you.”

“We’re very fortunate,” Gracie said, nodding.

“There are even a few I don’t recognize,” Spencer said, pointing to a young woman browsing in fiction. “Do you know who that girl is over there?”

“Let’s see.” Gracie squinted at a girl blowing bubblegum. She felt the blood drain from her face, and shook her head. “No, I don’t know who she is,” she said, looking away with a shudder.

“No matter. Things are going great,” he whispered. “This thing is going to work.” He gave her arm a squeeze.

Gracie looked around. Everyone was smiling as they browsed, chatting with friends. She saw Carrie and Angie reading to younger children in the beanbags, Father Andrew and Rabbi Schulman debating in the philosophy section, and Del entertaining neighbors over by the food trays. All the while, Wendell snapped photos for the Gazette.

Gracie took a deep breath and looked up at Spencer. “You might be right, sweetheart.” She smiled, but stole another look at the unidentified young woman.

“Are these books for sale tonight, or is this just for lookin’?” Hal Doyle stood before her holding an anthology of Wild West stories that had belonged to Gracie’s father. Throughout this venture, she had a nagging worry that it would be hard to give up custody of any of her books, but since her first sale was to Hal, she found it easier to share. She slipped on her reading glasses, took the book from Hal, and wrote an inscription: To a great landlord, with gratitude.

This one’s on the house, Hal,” she said, handing it back to him.

“Are you sure?” Hal asked.

“Absolutely,” Gracie said, squeezing his rough hand. “You’ve been very good to me, and I want you to know that I appreciate it. Enjoy it with my compliments.”

Hal’s smile was worth much more than the book. I just might be in the right business after all, she thought.

The bell above the door jingled again, and Gracie looked over in time to see the young woman Spencer had noticed exit and walk down the street. Gracie chastised herself when she realized that the thought that sprang to her mind was not a very smart one for a new shopkeeper: I hope she never returns.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


 Dear readers: 

I hope this sample made you want to read more. If so, you can find the book at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndiebound, or your local bookstore. Happy reading!

Carol

 

 


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