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Dead Man's Touch
     

Dead Man's Touch

5.0 1
by Kit Ehrman, Ehrman Kit
 

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Bruised in body and psyche from his adventures in "At Risk," 22-year-old Steve Cline is recruited by his father to work undercover at his training barn to discover whos been doping the most promising horses. When a young woman is found dead in a horses stall, Steve becomes the prime suspect in her murder.

Overview

Bruised in body and psyche from his adventures in "At Risk," 22-year-old Steve Cline is recruited by his father to work undercover at his training barn to discover whos been doping the most promising horses. When a young woman is found dead in a horses stall, Steve becomes the prime suspect in her murder.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Ehrman, who has worked at show barns and breeding farms, strikes a solid claim to this gritty territory with another heels-up thriller that takes up where Dick Francis left off. In the barn. — Marilyn Stasio
Publishers Weekly
Still recovering from the physical and psychological bruises he received in his first outing, At Risk (2002), 22-year-old Steve Cline, barn manager of a Maryland horse farm, faces more trauma when his estranged father dies in a car accident in this chilling sequel from Ehrman. At the father's funeral, Steven learns from his brother that he's not the son of the man in the coffin, but rather the product of an affair. When Steve confronts his socialite mother, she confesses that his real father is horse trainer Christopher J. Kessler. Curious, Steve heads for the Maryland track to observe him until Kessler becomes suspicious and accuses Steve of being involved with the people who are pressuring him to throw races. When he learns that Steve is his son, Kessler hires him to work undercover at his training barn to find out who's been drugging his most prized horses. With the determination, bravado and resilience of the young, Steve begins an investigation that will lead to two murders. From the labor-intensive work in the oppressive heat of a Maryland summer to the cockroach-infested living quarters of the help, Ehrman creates an authentic and vivid picture of the reality behind the glamour of the races. The bad guys may be a bit too obvious, but with its sensitively drawn characters and enchanting horses with unique personalities, this is sure to be a contender for the winner's circle. (Nov. 3) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
While recovering from an encounter with criminals (At Risk), Foxdale Stable's Steve Cline abruptly learns that his long-estranged and recently deceased father was not his biological father. Steve locates his real dad, who also works with horses, then goes undercover to find out who has been trying to coerce the man into throwing horse races. When two thugs threaten to rape his newly found half-sister, Steve really gets riled-but not nearly so much as when he's accused of a subsequent horse-stable murder. Smooth prose surrounds the knowledgeable equine subject matter, while Steve's psychological barriers provide ample subplot material. Recommended. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590582923
Publisher:
Poisoned Pen Press
Publication date:
04/01/2008
Series:
Steve Cline Mysteries Series
Pages:
306
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Dead Man's Touch


By Kit Ehrman

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2003 Kit Ehrman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59058-292-3


CHAPTER 1

There is a gash in the earth where his casket will rest. The sharp dirt edges are draped with green matting. Softened. The stark finality of this place hidden from view. Above our heads, a hot breeze rustles the canvas as a stray beam of light glints off the rounded end of the casket's support. I focus my gaze on the metallic sheen, and even as my vision blurs, I convince myself that all I feel is regret.

Maybe if I'd had some kind of premonition he wouldn't live to see sixty, maybe then I would have made an effort to make it work ... to be his son.

The priest concluded his eulogy with words I half listened to. Words extolling the virtues of a man he did not know. When he signaled for us to stand for the closing prayer, I glanced at Rachel and squeezed her hand. She looked more sorrowful, more distressed than I was capable of feeling, and a twinge of guilt nudged my conscience. Her sorrow was for me, I knew, yet she needn't have bothered.

Father had been a strict, controlling authoritarian and little else. And yet, I'd still been surprised when he'd kicked me out of his house for leaving college, and in the past two years, I hadn't gone back.

When the prayer was concluded, Mother stepped across the carpet and placed a dozen white roses on the casket. My brother, Robert, had his arm importantly around her waist, as if she needed his support, but when she turned to leave, I saw she was in full command of her emotions. As usual, she was dressed to perfection. Her elegant black dress shouted money, and if the designer threads didn't get your attention, her four-carat diamond ring was likely to do the job. The woman could make a statement without opening her mouth.

She paused in front of me. "Stephen, you are coming back to the house, aren't you?"

I glanced at Robert and almost said no, but my sister moved into view behind him, and I changed my mind. Sherri clung to her husband's arm with her long slender fingers bunching the sleeve of his suit coat as she looked at me beseechingly. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and a faint sheen of moisture glistened above her upper lip.

I turned back to my mother and mumbled, "Yes, ma'am."

The corner of her mouth twitched, then she nodded, and the four of them joined the crowd heading toward the row of cars that shimmered in the hot June sunshine.

I put my arm around Rachel's waist. "Guess I changed plans on you, huh?"

"That's okay," Rachel said as she slid her hand along the small of my back, beneath the Armani jacket Mother had had delivered to the loft along with a silk shirt and tie. The getup felt alien after slogging around a horse farm in jeans and work boots. "To be honest, I was surprised when you told me you weren't going."

"Yeah, well ... I guess I better. I'll take you home first, if you prefer."

She shook her head. "I'll go with you."

I squeezed her tighter, then we stepped from beneath the canopy into a flood of sunlight. I paused and squinted against the glare. A group of people I hadn't expected stood farther down the slope in the shade of an old oak. Marty and Mrs. Hill, my boss, and behind them, at what I took to be a symbolic distance, Detective Ralston.

"Stephen, my dear boy." Mrs. Hill came forward and clasped my hand. "I'm so sorry, dear. What a shame." She patted my arm. "Losing your father at such a young age. So tragic, dear. So tragic. Is there anything I can do for you? Any way I can help?"

"No, ma'am." I cleared my throat. "I appreciate your coming."

"I wouldn't have it any other way, dear. You know that." She released my arm. "Let me know if there's anything I can do."

"Thank you."

She nodded, then made her slow way across the grass. She looked dignified in her generous black skirt and blouse, but to my mind, motherly described her best.

"Marty, thanks for coming," I said.

"Shit, Steve." He glanced over his shoulder. "She would of canned my ass if I didn't come pay my respects."

I smiled at him. "Thanks anyway."

"Yeah, well. Just kidding. For you, I'd come." He looked me up and down, then fingered my sleeve. "Man, you clean up good. Almost didn't recognize you." His grin faded. "You gonna move back home, now?"

I shook my head.

"Which reminds me," Marty said, and I knew what he was going to say before he opened his mouth. "Got any idea when you're coming back to work? It's been what, eight weeks since you got out of the hospital?"

I glanced over his shoulder at Detective Ralston. "Nine weeks and a day," I said, thinking about how my life had changed since I'd interrupted a horse theft back in January.

Marty snorted.

"I don't know, Marty. Soon."

"Christ. I hope so." He reached over and awkwardly hugged me. "We miss ya, bud." Marty grinned at Rachel. "Don't we, Rache?"

"We sure do."

"Rache? You're calling her Rache, now?"

Marty shrugged, and I decided I had better get my butt in gear and get back to work. He filled me in on what was and wasn't happening at Foxdale, and when he said good-bye, I watched him stride down the hill with his familiar, carefree gait.

"Steve, sorry about your father." Detective Ralston shook my hand, and as usual, he'd been quietly observing everyone with intense hazel eyes. "How're you doing, otherwise?"

I shrugged. "Okay, I guess."

I watched his attention zero in on the lack of conviction in my voice. He simply said, "Mind if I stop by one afternoon?"

"Sure."

He shook my hand, and after he left, Rachel said, "It was nice of them to come, wasn't it?"

"Hmm."

"They're worried about you."

"They'll get over it."

She shook her head, then entwined her fingers in mine. "You need help, Steve, and if you can't see that, you're worse off than I thought."

I cleared my throat. "Let's not talk about that, now."

She blew her bangs off her forehead and hugged me, then she rested her head against my chest. "I'm just worried about you."

"I know. It's just that I can't deal with it right now."

"You've got to, sooner than later, or you'll never be happy."

I put my arm around her shoulders. Beyond the rows of tombstones, the Baltimore skyline lay shrouded beneath a shimmering cloud of heat and exhaust.

"Come on," I said. "Let's get out of here."

I kept the windows down until the pickup's pathetic air-conditioner kicked out a few stray molecules of cool, and we drove to my parents' house in silence.

"My God," Rachel exclaimed as I turned into the hedge-lined drive. "It's a mansion."

"That, it is." Three stories of cold, gray stone. Impersonal.

The home of my childhood.

"I had no idea."

"Yeah. Home-sweet-home."

Rachel glanced uncertainly at my face, and even I could hear the bitterness in my voice. I idled the truck and listened as the muffler rumbled obscenely in the quiet, opulent neighborhood. The service hired to park the cars was still on duty, but I wanted a quick exit when the time came to leave. I dropped the Chevy into reverse, backed down the driveway, and parked alongside the gate house. I switched off the engine and rolled down my window.

When I didn't move, Rachel slid across the seat and rested her head on my shoulder. "You really need to go in, you know?"

"I don't belong here," I said as I leaned against the backrest, "and I haven't for a long time."

Rachel lifted her head. "Your parents ... they make me so angry. You deserved more from them."

I grunted. "Maybe that's been my problem all along. Thinking I deserved more. Why should I have had it any better?"

"Because you're a good, decent person, that's why. You deserved parents who cared more about their kids than their social status."

"Most people would think I had it damned good, Rachel."

"Money isn't everything."

I kissed her forehead. "Let's get it over with."

I walked around the front bumper and opened her door.

Behind me, someone said, "What a gentleman," and I would have known my brother's sour voice anywhere.

I turned slowly around. Robert squinted at me through a haze of cigarette smoke with a sneer twisting his mouth.

"Nice to see you, too, Bobby."

He scowled, and the muscles in his face settled into a pattern they were well accustomed to, deepening the wrinkles around his eyes and bunching his eyebrows together over the bridge of his nose. He'd always hated being called Bobby. Not dignified enough, I supposed. And if I wasn't mistaken, he was already half-soused.

He looked from me to my truck with loathing. "What a piece of junk. Doing well for yourself, I see."

"What's the matter, Robert? Mother doesn't need your support anymore?"

"You stupid little shit." He flicked his cigarette into the grass, glanced at Rachel, then turned abruptly and headed for the house.

I walked over and ground out the butt.

"Nice welcome," Rachel said as she slid off the seat.

"Yep. Pure Robert. He's always like that." I rubbed my forehead.

"Well, not always."

I looked toward the house. "Robert idolized the old man. Ever since I can remember, he's wanted to be like him. Dressed like him. Styled his hair the same way. Shit, I'm surprised he didn't become a doctor." I wrapped my arms around Rachel. "I'm glad you came, you know that?" I whispered as her hair brushed against my lips. "You give me strength."

She leaned back and gazed into my face. "You're the strongest person I know."

I grunted.

"Trouble is, you don't see it."

"That's because it isn't there to see."

She tilted her head to one side. "You don't go through hell and back and come out of it in one piece, unless you're strong."

I brushed her bangs off her forehead. "If I'm not mistaken, you were just telling me I needed help."

"You do, but that's what guys just don't get. Just because you need help doesn't mean you're weak. Everyone needs help now and then."

I wished to hell I felt strong. All I felt was uncertainty and self-doubt, as if the fibers that made up who I was were disintegrating before my eyes, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.

Rachel looped her arm through mine, and we walked down the drive. When she paused inside the entrance, I glanced at her face. Her lips had formed into a silent "oh." I followed her gaze to the wide double staircase that flanked both sides of the massive foyer. They curved upward and joined two stories above in a long open hallway, drawing the eye upward to a magnificent chandelier of sparkling crystal.

The temptation of those broad mahogany banisters had gotten me into trouble more times than I cared to remember. When I was six, and no longer satisfied with simply sending an assortment of toys down the highly polished wood, I had slid down myself and broken my arm. Looking at them, now, I realized I'd been lucky I hadn't broken my neck.

"Something else, isn't it?" I said, and Rachel nodded.

It was spectacular, even to my jaded eyes. My mother's grandfather had commissioned Ephraim Francis Baldwin to design the mansion back in the early nineteen-hundreds, after he'd made a fortune importing and distributing spices to a global market, and neither one of them had been inclined to spare any expense. The marble tile I was standing on had come from Italy, and the intricately carved doors at my back were chiseled from teak that had been hand selected and shipped from the island of Java.

A heavy hand rested on my shoulder, and someone whispered in my ear. "Brings back memories, doesn't it?"

I grinned, and as I turned toward my mother's personal assistant, he clamped his massive arms around me in a bear hug that almost lifted me off my feet.

"My God, boy, it's good to see you." Parker released his hold and gripped my shoulders, instead. "You comin' home, now?"

"Uh, I don't know," I said.

He let go, and the crow's feet etched into his dark skin softened as his smile faded. "No, then."

I shrugged. "You know how it is."

He tousled my hair like he'd done a thousand times before, and a sad weariness filled his eyes. "Don't let 'em get to you, Steve," he said softly.

"I won't," I said as the front doors flew open, and two of my cousins and their girlfriends swept noisily into the foyer. They shook my hand and slapped my back and said all the proper things, then they drifted into the drawing room in search of something to eat.

I nodded to Parker, then I squeezed Rachel's hand, and as we stepped across the threshold, the dense carpet underfoot swallowed the sharp click of our footsteps.

Two long tables divided the length of the room. They were draped in fine linen and overloaded with delicacies only my mother's chef could conjure up. Waiters busied themselves offering drinks. I scanned the room but only recognized a couple of faces, which was no surprise as most of the crowd were from the hospital or the numerous benefits Mother committeed. A new Monet hung above the fireplace mantel, offset by crystal vases brimming with calla lilies. As always, the overall impression was one of unselfconscious wealth.

I led Rachel over to an arrangement of high-backed chairs alongside one of the tall, narrow windows that lined the west-facing wall. Beyond the glass, early afternoon sunlight sparkled on a reflecting pool in a formal garden that had been off limits when I was growing up.

"Would you like something to drink?"

Rachel nodded absentmindedly. Guess the place wasn't what she'd expected from someone who spent his days mucking stalls.

I intercepted one of the tuxedoed waiters and snagged two tall iced teas complete with lemon wedges and mint sprigs.

"Oh, Steve."

I smiled softly and turned to find Sherri at my side.

She wrapped her arms tightly around my waist. "I've missed you so much." Her voice was muffled against my chest.

"I've missed you, too, Sher," I whispered. "How's California treating you?"

She straightened. "Good. Alex is wonderful, business is booming, the weather can't be beat. I love it."

"I'm glad."

Alex drifted over as Sherri disentangled herself. She narrowed her eyes and studied me. "You've lost weight."

"A little."

"I'm sorry I didn't make it out when you were in the hospital."

"Believe me," I said, "you didn't miss anything."

She swallowed and shook her head. "I almost lose my baby brother because of some maniac, and Mother doesn't even bother to call me. Five days, Steve. It took her five whole days after you were shot before she picked up the phone." She frowned. "I don't know what her problem is."

"Mother's problem is what it's always been ... Father."

"Steve, that's unfair."

But true, I thought and decided I had better keep my opinions to myself. Sherri had always been Father's little girl, even when she'd chosen to marry beneath her social position. And it wasn't as if she'd scraped the bottom of the barrel when she fell for Alex Carter. Californian by birth and appearance, with windblown blond hair and a year-round tan, Alex was sole owner of a profitable landscape firm. It was his habit of working with his crews and getting just as dirty as they did that had really irked Father. Alex stood beside Sherri now, looking at her with such obvious love, I felt overwhelmingly happy for them and even managed to ignore a selfish twinge of brotherly jealousy.

"I can't believe he's gone," Sherri mumbled.

"Me, either."

Alex moved closer and embraced her. As she leaned into him, he nodded. "Steve," he said, "my condolences."

"Thanks, Alex." I looked to where I'd left Rachel and almost dropped our drinks.

Robert had Rachel backed up against the wall. He towered over her with his broad hand braced on the gold-flecked wallpaper. She shook her head in response to something he'd said and glanced in my direction. I took a step toward them as Rachel ducked under his arm and threaded her way through the crowd. She smiled when she reached me. It didn't quite work.

"Boy, I'm thirsty." She removed a glass from my hand and took a sip.

"Stay here." I sidestepped her, and she grabbed my arm.

"No, Steve. Don't." Rachel tightened her grip. "Please."

I unclenched my teeth. "What did he say?"

"Nothing," Rachel said as Sherri edged around her. "Nothing important."

"Oh, hi. I'm Sherri, Steve's sister." She nudged me in the ribs.

Robert was staring across the room with such open hostility, I was only vaguely aware of Rachel introducing herself.

Sherri followed my gaze and sighed. "Oh, Robert. He's a mess."

"What else is new?"

"He shouldn't be drinking," Sherri said. "Not today."

She turned back to Rachel, and I formally introduced them.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Dead Man's Touch by Kit Ehrman. Copyright © 2003 Kit Ehrman. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen 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.

Meet the Author

Kit Ehrman has worked at show barns and breeding farms in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Visit the author's website at www.kitehrman.com

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