All Fall Down

All Fall Down

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by Carlene Thompson

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Blaine Avery longed to live happily ever after in the picturesque West Virginia town where she was born. She never imagined she might also die there—any day now...

Few locals believe Sinclair's wealthy golden boy Martin Avery actually took his own life-or that his beautiful young widow had nothing to do with his death. Well aware of the rumors

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Blaine Avery longed to live happily ever after in the picturesque West Virginia town where she was born. She never imagined she might also die there—any day now...

Few locals believe Sinclair's wealthy golden boy Martin Avery actually took his own life-or that his beautiful young widow had nothing to do with his death. Well aware of the rumors behind her back, Blaine Avery is focused on managing her late husband's finances and raising her adolescent stepdaughter...until her serene woodland property yields a gruesome discovery.

For the second time in six months, Sheriff Logan Quint has been called out to the Avery place, where another corpse has been found. This time, it belongs to a teenage girl who had everything to live for. But if Rosie Van Zandt didn't kill herself...who did?

As the once sleepy town reels from the rash of so-called suicides, Blaine regrets the day she ever came home. Only Logan is willing to accept her innocence-or her suspicions. For Blaine is desperate to clear her name, and dead certain somebody intends to destroy it. Somebody who calls her in the dead of night, taunting her with the childhood rhyme: Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posey, ashes, ashes, we...

All Fall Down

"Had me guessing to the end. All Fall Down will keep you turning the pages until you reach the startling conclusion. A real spine-chiller."

-Judith Kelman, author of Summer of Storms

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author of Summer of Storms Judith Kelman
Had me guessing to the end. All Fall Down will keep you turning the pages until you reach the startling conclusion. A real spine-chiller.

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St. Martin's Press
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All Fall Down

By Carlene Thompson

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1993 Carlene Thompson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-0955-6


Blaine Avery smiled at the golden retriever capering before her. "Sure you really want to go on this walk, Ashley?" she teased. The dog barked and turned in a circle, her nails tapping on the polished oak floor. "Full of beans now that you're back home, aren't you?" Blaine laughed, bending down to rub the dog's ears.

Ashley growled the way she always did when she wanted a walk. "Okay, I'll stop chattering and we'll be on our way." Blaine stood up. "But don't forget, this is our first walk in the woods for a long time. I'm not up to chasing you, so don't go wild on me."

The dog marched to the door and shifted impatiently from side to side. Blaine drew a windbreaker over her light blue sweater, and as soon as she opened the French door, Ashley shot out into the mid-November sunshine. "I said, take it easy!" Blaine called, but the dog was already streaking across the wide terrace toward the woods a couple of hundred feet beyond, looking back and barking repeatedly as if to say, "Hurry up!"

"I guess I can't blame her." Blaine sighed, picking up her own pace. Six weeks ago, she had developed a serious case of pneumonia. After spending a week in the hospital, she'd moved into her sister, Caitlin's, home in town to recuperate. She had come back to her own house yesterday morning, but a deluge of rain during the afternoon had kept her and Ashley inside. Now it felt good to be outdoors, walking across the lawn toward the woods as she had so many times with the dog and her late husband, Martin.

Martin. Blaine closed her eyes, shivering as she drew the windbreaker tighter. She was a slim five-foot-nine with long auburn hair and light gray eyes that gazed alertly from a face whose high cheekbones stood out more than usual since Martin's death. The past several months had been hard for her, but looking up at the lemon-colored sun in a clear sky made her feel almost like her old self. Maybe the grief and the trauma of the recent past were beginning to fade, she thought.

Ashley had disappeared into the shadows of the woods, and Blaine hoped the dog wouldn't run helter-skelter for the next two hours. She didn't like leaving Ashley in the woods at night. Besides, Martin's daughter, Robin, would be home from the Sunday matinee soon, and Blaine wanted to fix her something nice for dinner. Maybe baked chicken with lemon sauce, one of her favorite recipes. Of course, Robin would probably just as soon have a pizza. And she probably would not appreciate anything special Blaine fixed for her. Tension had always vibrated between the two of them, and it had grown worse since Martin's death. The time they had spent at Caitlin's house had helped — Robin seemed, in a cautious way, to like Cait and her family — but now that Blaine and Robin were home again, she felt the old awkwardness returning.

Blaine told herself she was letting her mind wander too much, though, which was a bad habit with her. Sometimes she would find she'd walked nearly a mile without noticing one thing around her. But she couldn't let that happen today. She had the dog to look after.

"Ashley," she called as she entered the woods and followed the path Martin's father had carved out fifty years ago. Every year it was cleared to make walking in the woods easier for the occupants of the house. "Ashley!"

The dog barked nearby, then came crashing through the undergrowth toward her. "Look at you!" Blaine laughed. "Ten minutes and your beautiful hair is full of leaves and twigs. You're a mess!"

Ashley barked again and took off, refusing to stay on the path. On hot summer days she loved to swim in the creek flowing through the property. Blaine only hoped the chill of the water would keep her out of it today. She didn't want to have to give the dog a bath as soon as they got home.

Blaine walked slowly, savoring the atmosphere. In the top of a hickory tree a red squirrel rattled nuts. The needles of the towering hemlocks had begun to fall, and their light brown cones were maturing. Soon they would be dropping their seeds, which reminded her that she would have to refill the bird feeders Caitlin's husband, Kirk, had made and hung in the woods two years ago, when five inches of snow had fallen and remained for weeks. She spotted one just ahead, hanging from an elm, an elegant little structure shaped like a Chinese pagoda and painted lacquer red with elaborate black-and-gold trim. "I designed these especially for you," he'd told her proudly. "Five of them. Signature pieces. No one else will have one like them."

"Blaine! Where are you?"

Blaine jerked at the sound of her younger sister's voice. "Cait, I'm up here."

In a moment Caitlin ran up to her, her short orange hair tousled, the freckles standing out on her nose. She looked seventeen instead of twenty-seven. "What are you doing here?" Blaine asked. "Checking up on me?"

Caitlin's lovely amber eyes, naked of makeup, twinkled at her. "Of course I'm checking up on you. You promised to call me every day, and I haven't heard a word so far today."

"You are ten times worse than a mother."

"Well, our mother isn't around anymore, so I get to be what I want. Why didn't you call me?"

"I've just been busy. Unpacking, reorganizing, you know."

Caitlin nodded. "Getting adjusted to living in this house again." She plunged her hands in the pockets of her denim jacket. "I tell you, Blaine, I don't think it's a good idea for you to be here. I think you should just sell the place."

"It's not mine to sell. Martin left it in trust to Robin, remember?"

"He left you half of Avery Manufacturing, I do remember that. You're a millionaire. Why don't you move?"

"Because Robin can't live here alone, her mother is dead so she has no one else to go to, and she's had too much upheaval in her life this past year for me to make her give up on the only home she's ever known." Blaine smiled reassuringly at her sister. "Don't worry. I'll put the ghosts to rest."

"The ghost, you mean. Martin's ghost. But don't be too sure he's going to rest easily. I can feel him every time I walk into that house."

"Where do you come up with lines like that? Books?"

"Well, I do. Some of my friends think I'm a little bit psychic."

"I think you have an overactive imagination."

Caitlin sighed. "Okay. I'm sorry I brought up something painful. I'm rambling as usual, and I know I can't budge you on this issue, although I don't think you're as brave about coming back to this house as you pretend." Blaine didn't meet her sister's eyes because, as usual, Caitlin knew exactly what she was feeling. "What I really came out here to see," Cait went on, "is how you feel today."

"I'm fine."

"All right, don't take my head off. You look good."

Blaine took a deep breath and forced herself to relax, wishing she hadn't taken her discomfort at the memory of Martin out on her sister. It had been almost a year since the car accident, and six months since his death. It was time to put the past where it belonged. "I'm sorry I snapped at you."

"That's okay." Cait grinned. "I deserved it for prattling on about ghosts. I talk before I think." She peered into the trees. "I guess Ashley's on her maiden voyage."

"And doing great. Too great. I can't keep up with her."

Caitlin laughed. "She'll wear out pretty soon. Isn't Robin home today?"

"She's at the movies. I'm glad — she's been spending too much time immersed in schoolwork and her piano."

"You were the same way. Always studying, always determined to make something of yourself in spite of all our disadvantages."

"Yes, but Robin doesn't have any disadvantages. She doesn't need to be so driven to succeed."

"Just be glad she's motivated. A lot of kids aren't." They fell into step and Caitlin asked, "Seen any deer?"

"With Ashley around? Certainly not. They must sense she's back and ready to give them a good chase."

"Robin told me a funny story about a deer out here." Blaine looked at her questioningly. "It seems that she was with Rosalind Van Zandt, and they were only about four. All at once there was a rustle and then this white tail flagging away from them. That's how Robin described it. They both thought it was Bambi and went shrieking back to the house to tell Martin. He went right along with them and said Bambi was a movie star who deserved the very best, so he put out a salt lick for the deer."

"That sounds like the Martin I fell in love with," Blaine said, smiling. Then her smile faded. "She never tells me stories like that."

"I'm not her beautiful young stepmother. She never felt that she was competing with me for her father's love."

"We weren't competing."

"We know that, but we're not oversensitive teenagers. Underneath, I think she likes you."

"She tolerates me. That's it."

"So why not send her to her mother's parents?"

"Because they live in Florida and this is her senior year of high school. Besides, they've never asked to have her and she's never asked to go to them."

"That's strange."

"Not really. They were middle-aged when Robin's mother was born, and they're very old now. They live in a retirement community. They wouldn't know what to do with a lively teenager, and Robin would feel buried alive living with them. Anyway, she's always wanted to stay here."

"Well, as long as the two of you manage to get along, I guess there's no harm in your staying together, although I still think you're making a mistake by moving back into this house."


"Okay. I've said my piece." She winked at Blaine. "And when did you ever do anything someone told you to?"

"Dad always taught us to be independent."

Caitlin rolled her eyes, the buoyancy leaving her voice. "Yeah, and look where it got him. Mom left, he couldn't hold a steady job because of his drinking, and he died broke and sick in that sagging shack downtown because he wouldn't let either one of us help him."

"Cait, are you trying to bring up every painful memory in my life?"

"It's true. You always romanticize him, but —"

"I don't romanticize him," Blaine said tightly, "but I don't try to make a tragic figure out of him, either. He was happy with his life. And he was a good father. We had a lot of good times, Cait. You can't deny that."

"Yeah, we did. We just didn't have any money, any security, any dignity —"

Footsteps pounded on the path behind them, and they both whirled to see Robin. "I saw your car in the driveway, Caitlin," she said, panting as she slowed down. Alarm showed in her eyes. "No one was in the house and I thought maybe something was wrong. Then I realized the two of you must be out here. Nothing is wrong, is it?"

"Not a thing," Blaine said lightly, wishing Robin would stop panicking at every variation in routine, but after Martin's horrible death, she well understood the girl's anxiety. She, too, fought it every day.

"We're supposed to be taking a restful walk," Caitlin said tartly. "Actually, we're quarreling."

A smile flitted across Robin's face. During the two years of Blaine's marriage to Martin, Robin had seemed at first bewildered and later amused by Blaine and Caitlin's constant bickering, and Blaine had realized how strange she and Cait must sound to Robin. Having no brothers or sisters of her own, Robin seemed unaware of the frequent, harmless spats between siblings, especially two loving but equally strong-willed, outspoken sisters. "We'll save round two for the walk back home if you'll join us," Blaine said.

Robin nodded, assuming a false air of nonchalance to hide her earlier alarm. "Okay. It's a nice day for a walk."

And you would never have come along if it were just the two of us, Blaine thought unhappily. But Robin's coldness toward her was just one more thing she would have to learn to accept. It had been bad enough when she married Martin, but much worse during the past few months. Still, Robin was Martin's only child, and Blaine was determined to do the best by her that she could, even if it meant enduring the girl's poorly disguised hostility and occasional veiled insults.

"How was the movie, Robin?" Caitlin asked.

"Great. I think Kim Basinger is really beautiful. I might bleach my hair blond like hers."

Blaine looked at Robin's long, glossy dark brown hair. "You touch that perfect hair and you'll regret it." Robin's eyes flashed at her, seeming to mistake her words for a threat. "I only meant that you have great hair. I don't think you want to mess it up with chemicals."

"Yeah. You might end up a carrottop like me," Caitlin added.

Robin relaxed and laughed. She really is lovely, Blaine thought. Slender and fawnlike, with those huge dark eyes. If only she knew how pretty she really is. But self-confidence was not one of Robin's strong points. She was always comparing herself with her more blatantly striking friends, like Rosie Van Zandt.

As they ambled on, Blaine noticed the sugar maples, whose leaves varied from yellow to burnt orange to crimson and cranberry-red. After she graduated from high school and moved to Dallas to attend college and later to teach, she'd missed the beautiful autumns of West Virginia. When, following her father's death four years ago, she'd returned to Sinclair, West Virginia, it had been October, and the trees had turned the hills into patchwork quilts of color. She'd told everyone she had decided to stay in Sinclair to be near her sister, but Caitlin wasn't her only reason for remaining. The lure of the mountainous land that sloped down toward the Ohio River and where she'd grown up had been almost irresistibly strong, and she'd never regretted her decision to move back to Sinclair. Not until Martin's death, at least.

As if the thought of death had manifested itself in symbolic reality, she looked up to see two carrion crows flying overhead. "I hate those things," she muttered. "Miniature vultures."

Robin glanced up absently. "They aren't too appealing, but I guess they're necessary."

Abruptly Blaine became aware that it was getting darker. The points of light slicing through the leaves to shine on the moist path below were blurring. She glanced at her watch. Five-ten. A little early for the light to be fading, but it was.

"I think we'd better head home now," she said.

"So soon?" Cait asked. "Don't you want to walk to the end of the path as usual?"

"No. I'd like to get dinner started."

"I hope we're not having anything fancy," Robin said, dashing Blaine's visions of chicken in lemon sauce. "I'm really in the mood for a pizza."

"I knew it! Actually, that sounds pretty good to me, too. We'll go to Village Pizza Inn. Do you and Kirk want to join us, Cait?"

"No, thanks. I have a roast in the oven, which is probably burning to a crisp, since Kirk will never remember to check it."

Blaine laughed. "So you might be joining us after all." She paused, then called, "Ashley!" The woods were silent. "Ashley, come on, girl!" Again there was no sound.

Blaine whistled and was glad finally to hear an answering bark. Only it wasn't just a bark of recognition. It was a volley of barks. Had Ashley cornered a ground hog? The three of them stood still, listening. No, there was something different about the barking. It held a note of alarm Blaine had learned to recognize after owning the dog for years. "Something's wrong," she said.

Robin whistled for the dog she loved almost as much as Blaine did. No response except the distant, frantic barking. She and Blaine exchanged a look, then began to run along the path with Caitlin trailing behind. "Ashley, come here!" Robin shouted.

The barking continued, but the dog did not come. She was up ahead and off to the right, Blaine decided, stopping to listen again. "She's at the creek. Maybe she tried to swim and can't make it back up the bank. We've had so much rain, it could be crumbling."

Blaine plunged into the undergrowth, feeling her running shoes sink slightly into the dark, loamy earth still spongy from Saturday's downpour. Usually she didn't veer from the path, frightened she might step on a snake. Even now she imagined a sleek head rising to bury its fangs in her leg. Could a copperhead bite through jeans? she wondered, stopping once more to listen.


Excerpted from All Fall Down by Carlene Thompson. Copyright © 1993 Carlene Thompson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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