A thrilling new Lucinda Pierce mystery - Candace Eagleton was brutally murdered, and Homicide Lieutenant Lucinda Pierce is determined to find her killer. Meanwhile, Charles Rowland tells FBI agent Jack Lovett vague details about a murder linked to someone at the heart of the US government. But before Jake can find out more, Charles bolts – and is killed. When a scrap of paper is found in Charles’ apartment with a list of names, including his and Candace’s, it’s clear the murders are linked – and there may be more to follow . . .
About the Author
Diane Fanning is the co-editor of "Red Boots & Attitude" and the author of "The Windwalkers," Her stories and essays have been published in the "Baltimore Sun" and other periodicals. She is the Executive Director of Another Way Texas Shares, a non-profit federation. Fanning lives in New Braunfels, Texas with her husband, cat, and dog.
Read an Excerpt
By Diane Fanning
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2012 Diane Fanning
All rights reserved.
'It's not a suicide,' a voice shouted from the doorway.
Homicide Lieutenant Lucinda Pierce ignored the noise and focused on absorbing the scene around her. To the left, against the wall, a black lacquer table with curved legs bore a large white and red vase containing a greenhouseful of red roses and white lilies. The petals appeared to be as soft as chamois. The floral arrangement overwhelmed the residential space in its size and expense – more suited to a hotel lobby or the entrance of a too-pricey restaurant.
A field of stark white marble veined with black stretched beneath Lucinda's feet. The stone led to two broad steps stretching wall-to-wall. It, too, seemed too much – too grand for a place called home. Beyond the marble flooring, wide heart of pine planks led into an expansive living room populated by white and red chairs and sofas and black lacquer tables. The room ended with floor-to-ceiling glass that bowed out toward the James River as if yearning to set sail.
Directly in front of her, right above the marble steps, an arched walkway, like a bridge over a small stream, spanned from one side of the second floor to the other – the top railing of black lacquer supported by the warm tones of aged pine spindles. Near the center of the walkway, a wooden chair with an upholstered seat pushed against the rail. Attached to the railing, a thick yellow rope formed a dense knot, suspending the body of a middle-aged woman.
'Someone murdered my wife,' the voice from the doorway said. Lucinda assumed it was the voice of Frank Eagleton, the male resident of the home.
Lucinda turned around and faced him. A tall, well-built man in a charcoal suit, striped tie and Italian loafers leaned into the room between the two uniformed officers blocking his access. A very good but still perceptible hairpiece perched on the top of his head. Deep-set blue eyes flashed, his full, lower lip stuck out in defiance. He gave the appearance of a man who was unused to being ignored.
Turning to Sergeant Robin Colter, Lucinda whispered, 'Get the husband away from the doorway. Do it nicely. But make sure the uniforms keep him outside on the premises.' Lucinda returned to her examination. Below the woman's feet, the bright red soles of a pair of Louboutin black spiked heels slashed across the white marble like a fresh wound.
The deceased, presumably Candace Eagleton – the only female living at this address – wore a black pencil skirt and a stark white silk blouse. Around her neck, a light green stone pendant hung from a gold chain. The same stone was in her earrings and on the ring finger of her right hand. Was the way she was dressed telling? Was she on her way out? Did she dress like that around the house, or did she put on a favorite outfit to commit suicide?
Was there significance to the display of the body? No one opening the door could miss her. The high-vaulted ceilings in the foyer seemed to press down, forcing all eyes in the direction of the deceased woman. Beyond the elevated walkway, the ceilings soared up again in the sun-drenched room beyond. Was that her last moment of theatre? Did she want to make sure her husband noticed her at last? Or was her prominent location an arrogant slap from a killer?
'Money can't buy you love.'
Lucinda grinned and turned toward the sound of the familiar gruff voice of the coroner. 'Doc Sam! Is that what you think this is all about – love?'
'Of course. She either felt unloved and, thus, ended her miserable existence, or she was unloved and that person snatched her life away. Love or the lack of it is a backdrop to every story.' The word love sounded incongruous falling off the lips of an old curmudgeon with a balding head of wispy hair and rumpled clothes.
'Are you becoming a romantic in your old age?'
'I'm not too old to show up at yet another of your crime scenes, Pierce,' he said as he tugged on a Tyvec suit and booties.
'True. But love, Doc Sam?' The eyebrow above her good eye arched nearly to her hairline.
'I'm not getting senile, if that's what you think. Blame my granddaughter. She keeps telling me about my lack of faith in humankind and my permanent state of surly cynicism – she actually used that phrase; just fifteen years old and she threw "surly cynicism" at me. Anyway, she nags me to look for the positive, look for the silver lining, look for the love.'
'And you're actually listening and following her advice?'
'She's my granddaughter, Pierce. My only granddaughter. I'm trying but your surly cynicism doesn't make it easy.'
Lucinda laughed and faced the body presumed to be Candace Eagleton once again. 'The husband says it's not a suicide.'
'And that surprises you, Pierce? What family does believe a loved one could take their own life?'
'Not surprised at his comment but I am surprised at how perfect the scene looks.'
Doc Sam stepped up to the woman's feet and looked up at her hands. 'Appears to be some dirt under her fingernails.'
'That seems out of character. Looks like a fresh manicure and a pedicure. Look at her. Look around you. This is a woman who takes great care with appearances.'
'Hmm,' Doc Sam said. 'That could explain the perfectly composed suicide scene.'
'Perhaps. But who is the most likely suspect when a woman dies violently in her own home?' 'The husband.'
'Most definitely, Doc. So why would the most likely suspect direct us away from a suicide conclusion?'
'Playing head games with the dumb cops?'
'Most possibly. I hope you can provide some answers for me,' Lucinda said. 'Make sure the hands are bagged before you move the body.'
'Do I tell you how to do your job, Lieutenant?' Doc Sam growled.
Lucinda rolled her eyes. 'Yes, you do. All the time.' She walked away and headed up the stairs.
Doc Sam called after her, 'Do you ever listen?'
Lucinda simply smiled as she stepped onto the walkway. She turned right and entered a symphony of rose and white in a spacious master suite as expansive as some homes. The room smelled softly of refined femininity – a quiet marriage of timid lilies highlighted by demure vanilla. The rose color in the carpet and the draperies was the shade of a soft blush. In a corner, an old child's rocking chair held an antique doll with blonde ringlets, dressed in an outfit that nearly matched the bedspread.
A coved ceiling rose above a four-poster bed covered with a lacy white spread sprinkled with tiny pink roses. The head of the bed was mounded high with decorative pillows in all shapes and shades of rose and pink. In the sitting area, two dark rose chaises sat before the window like two beach chairs facing the sea, the view of the river serene and magical. Between the chaises, a table, draped to the floor in white, bore a bud vase with a singular red rose.
Lucinda stepped into the master bathroom with its floor of white marble and its walls of white, pink and clear glass tiles. The dark rose surface of the vanity stretched long with two basins of translucent white on its surface. A large spa tub with a dozen jets was surrounded by green, growing plants and windows. A separate shower with sprays jutting from three walls stood beside the tub. The water closet was discreetly concealed behind a chest-high wall.
A door led to a walk-in closet with built-in drawers, shelves and hanging bars. She walked through an expansive selection of women's clothing and shoes before exiting out of the other door and back into the bedroom. Not one square inch of space – not one single item – gave the impression that any man had ever walked through the doorway into this female sanctuary. Had she ever shared this room with her husband?
Lucinda emerged from there into the harsh reality of a crime scene. The body no longer hung from the railing but rested on an open body bag, hands bagged, head tilted to one side. She moved on to the other side of the walkway and entered a room that could not have been more different from the one she left.
It was a second master suite, a bit smaller than the room across the walkway but certainly of a sufficiently elegant size. A bold bed frame of rough timber supported a kingsized mattress covered with a dark plaid spread that rose up in a hump at the end of the bed. A pile of decorative pillows formed a mountain on the window seat. A rustic nightstand bore a lamp made from deer antler, an alarm clock and two hand weights.
The draperies around the window of the sitting area matched the plaid of the bedspread. A chair and a recliner upholstered in dark green leather with brass brads sat at broad angles in front of the window. A primitive bent twig table sat betwixt them – a bottle of Jack Daniels, an ice bucket and two glasses on its surface.
Through the doorway to the bathroom, Lucinda spotted a slate-tiled walk-in shower big enough to sluice down a whole football team. A small walk-in Jacuzzi sat in a corner, flanked by windows. Rustic wood formed the vanity, its surface covered with a thick pane of glass. Two copper basins sat on top of that. Behind a chest-high wall were a urinal and a water closet.
Through the closet door, Lucinda found the same meticulous, personalized attention to detail in the storage design. This closet, however, was filled with male clothing exclusively. There was even an alcove built to the correct dimensions to hold a pair of the waist-high waders that trout fishermen wear. The door on the other side opened into the bedroom. It seemed apparent that the couple had not shared a bedroom. Did that mean they had not shared a sex life?
Lucinda went back downstairs and scanned the front yard until she caught Robin Colter's eye. She raised her chin and Robin cut off her conversation with a patrolman and came inside. 'Is the husband in the back of a car?' Lucinda asked.
'Yes. He threatened to leave since no one would listen to him. He tried to barrel his way through the officers at the front door. We ended up putting him in cuffs to get him in the patrol vehicle. Once there, though, he calmed down. I took off the cuffs and he swore he would not attempt to leave the car until the detective in charge talked to him. He even said he was willing to spend the night there if he had to do so, as if it was his idea to climb into the car.'
'Makes you wonder if he bullied his wife, too,' Lucinda said.
'He does seem used to getting what he wants, when he wants it. The last time I talked to him, he was demanding a timetable. He said he didn't mind waiting, but he needed some parameters.'
Their conversation was interrupted by Doc Sam. 'Pierce, you better take a look at this.' He held up a clear plastic sleeve with an open piece of paper inside it.
[begin strikethrough]Dear[end strikethrough] Frank, You have taken my heart, crushed it, stomped on it and pulverized it. You have destroyed my ability to love. I suspect that, if we remained together, it would only be a matter of time before you take my life.
I have been working to obtain an independent source of income because once I leave, I will not want to be connected to you in any way. If you are reading this note, that means I have secured the revenue I need. All that remains is the division of the estate.
Since the house was built with the money I brought to the marriage, it seems right that I remain in it. However, if you want the house, you can have it. If you want to sell the house, we can do it. I simply want out.
Your betrayed wife and the debased mother of your children,
Lucinda read the letter out loud and handed it back to Doc Sam. 'Perhaps the husband is right after all. Someone did murder his wife.' She looked out to the patrol car holding the husband, raised her hand and pointed her finger like a gun. 'Tag, you're it, Frank Eagleton.'CHAPTER 2
FBI Special Agent in Charge Jake Lovett sat at his desk studying the man across from him. Behind him, the blinds were drawn to eliminate the distraction of the cityscape from his visitor. A long bookcase ran from wall-to-wall below the window. Stacks of files with protruding multicolored Post-it notes littered the top of it. An open laptop sat on the right-hand side of his desk, a telephone, framed photograph of his parents and a bobbing woodpecker on the left. In front of him a legal pad and pen lay waiting.
In the chair opposite the agent, a man shifted from side to side as he twisted a baseball cap in his hands. He covered his balding head in a peculiar comb-over style reminiscent of Donald Trump. Jake wondered how anyone could look at the financial mogul on television and think, 'Hey, that's just the look for me.' He appeared to be about fifty – a worn-out fifty – with bags under his eyes, large pores across his nose and gray bristles sprinkled along his jawline, giving the appearance that he shaved in the dark.
'Nothing you are saying is making much sense,' Jake said. 'As I said, without your name, the nature of the crime and the identity of the person who is threatening you, I don't know what I can possibly do to help you.'
'You have to help me or I'm a dead man,' the man pleaded.
'I appreciate that you have concerns about your personal safety but you still have told me nothing that explains why you are here at the FBI instead of a local law enforcement office.'
'I did. I told you. There's a federal connection.'
'Yes, you did say that. But you have given me no indication of how there is a federal connection. Does it involve a federal employee?'
'I don't know if that's the correct way to put it or not but maybe.'
'Did the crime happen on federal property?'
'I don't know. There was one meeting at the Lincoln Memorial. Does that count?'
'It might if I knew what happened at the monument.'
The man exhaled loudly. 'I can't tell you until I know I won't be prosecuted.'
'So you were involved in a crime that might be a federal crime?'
'Actually, there are two crimes,' he said and flashed a grin.
'Two crimes? Are either of them federal?'
'I'm not sure. I don't think the first one is but I might be wrong about the property lines when it comes to my part of the thing. And the second one, well, I thought it might be because someone who might become a federal employee is involved.'
Jake bent his head down and scratched the nape of his neck. 'We are going nowhere here. I think this is a waste of time. You told me that it was a matter of national security. You told me it involved a high-level person in the government. You told me it could damage the President of the United States. But since you walked into my office you have told me nothing to substantiate those claims. I believe it's time you left,' Jake said as he rose to his feet.
The man jumped up. 'No. No. You can't send me out there without protection. I was followed here. I know it. If I walk out that door I'm a dead man. They'll know I've been in your office.'
'Sir, please.' Jake placed a hand on the man's shoulder and applied minimum pressure to maneuver him towards the door. 'You go on home and think about this a little more. If you decide to be more forthcoming with your information, you are more than welcome to return.'
The man dropped to the floor, crossed his legs, and wrapped a hand around the arm of the chair. 'No. No. You can't make me. I'll tell you everything. But I have to have some guarantees. I have to know you will keep me safe. I have to know I won't be prosecuted.'
Jake was now convinced he had a nutcase in his office. 'OK, sir. Calm down.' He leaned back against his desk and crossed his arms. 'You've gotta spill something if you want my help. Explain what you said about the property lines.'
'I'm not sure whether the body was buried inside the Thomas Jefferson National Forest or just outside of it.'
'Body? Are you saying someone was murdered?'
'Yeah. But I didn't do that. I just dug the hole and helped throw it in.'
'Who was murdered?'
'I'm not sure. The body was wrapped in a blanket. The only thing that I could see was a little bit of hair that stuck out at one end. Looked like a woman's hair.'
'When did this happen?'
'Oh, 'bout thirty years ago.'
'Thirty years ago?'
'Yep. But that's just the first crime I know about.'
'What's the second crime?' Jake asked.
'A death threat.'
'Now why would I threaten myself?'
Jake shook his head. 'So you made the death threat?'
'Sort of? What the heck does that mean?'
'I said the words the other person standing next to me told me to say.'
'Who was standing next to you?'
The man sighed. 'C'mon, man. Aren't you paying any attention? The individual who killed that woman thirty years ago.'
'OK. So who did you threaten?'
'It was that person's threat really ...'
Excerpted from False Front by Diane Fanning. Copyright © 2012 Diane Fanning. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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