Death Angelby Martha Powers
Kate and Richard Warner have a quiet life, a routine life, until the one afternoon that changes them forever. Within a few short hours they are thrust into the black hole of every parent's worst nightmare. Suddenly they are at the center of attention of their community, the media, and the police. Richard has been singled out as the primary suspect in a heinous crime that took more than an innocent life. With Richard as a suspect, Kate's life unravels into unbearable chaos, grief, and a whole new world of deception. After a second murder and Richard's disappearance, Kate sets out to find the killer in their midst and clear her husband's name. She begins to piece together an eerie puzzle, finding clues in the heart of her own community. In Death Angel anguish, suspicion and death combine in the horrifying aftermath of a vicious crime that pits a mother's love against a ruthless killer. In a stunning conclusion, Kate risks her own life to track down and kill the Death Angel.
- Oceanview Publishing
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)
Read an Excerpt
By Martha Powers
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2006 Martha Powers
All rights reserved.
Kate Warner opened the door, flapping the towel to clear the clouds of steam from the bathroom. She'd raced home after work, looking forward to a long shower. The air conditioning at the library hadn't been turned on yet, so it had been hot and sticky working in the small conference room. She cocked her head, straining to hear any sound from downstairs. All was quiet. It must not be as late as she thought.
She dried herself, and turned on the hair dryer, using her free hand to pull on her canvas shoes. The steady stream of air blew her ash-brown hair in a cloud around her head and she leaned closer to the mirror, frowning at the dry skin between her eyebrows. She'd have to start using a moisturizer. Thirty-one wasn't too old. She turned sideways, checking for signs of sagging breasts or buttocks, satisfied that she hadn't deteriorated since the last time she'd looked.
Shutting off the dryer, she brushed her hair away from her face, letting it fall straight, the curled ends grazing her shoulders. After putting on fresh clothes, she turned off the light and crossed the bedroom toward the upstairs hall on the way scooping up her watch and earrings. She slipped the gold hoops into her ears as she started down the stairs. A quick glance at her watch. Three ten. Five minutes before the school bus came.
Richard hadn't wanted her to take the job, but for once she had stood her ground. With Jenny in school, the demands of the household were cut in half and, since he had never approved of her going out to lunch or doing volunteer work, she was at loose ends. Besides, she felt as if her brain were atrophying. She hadn't worked since she was married and found the part-time job at the library a perfect way to ease back into the workforce. Helping the senior citizens in the computer training classes was something she really enjoyed. As she explained to Richard, she would only work when Jenny was in school.
Opening the front door, she stepped outside. She shaded her eyes with her hand, squinting down the empty street, watching for the school bus.
Last year Kate had walked to the corner to meet the bus, but since her eighth birthday, Jenny had insisted that only babies had their mothers meet the bus. Richard had agreed that Jenny needed to learn independence, and what better place than in a small town like Pickard?
Kate sniffed the air. It was already the middle of May, but this was the first really beautiful day. Illinois had had a wet and chilly spring. She loved the balmy days before the summer heat and hoped this weather would continue.
Down the block, the school bus came into sight, slowing for the stop at the corner. The doors opened and she could see Jenny in her yellow jacket standing inside on the top step.
The phone rang. Kate waved to Jenny and, leaving the door open, she walked back through the hall to the kitchen. She listened to the recorded message announcing that her prescription was ready at the pharmacy. Hanging up, she returned to the front porch.
The street was empty.
The bus was gone and Jenny was nowhere in sight.
Several times Jenny had stopped to play with one of her friends and Kate had to remind her that she needed to come home first, just to check in. Being the last house before the cul de sac offered too much temptation for distraction. Especially when the weather was fine.
"You're in big trouble, Jennifer Louise," Kate muttered.
She left the front door unlocked and hurried down the stairs. Walking briskly, she checked the yards as she passed each house but didn't see anyone outside playing. She reached the corner and looked both ways. There were several children walking along the sidewalk on the next block, but she didn't see Jenny in her yellow jacket. Her chest tightened as she fought the uneasiness that filled her.
Taking a deep breath, she looked around. At the corner on the side street, a blue nylon backpack lay on the ground, pushed under the edge of the hedge that lined the sidewalk. She scooped it up, ripping open the Velcro flap to check inside. "Jennifer Warner" was written in block letters on the nametag. Where was Jenny?
"Jenny!" She shouted the name, turning her head from side to side as she scanned the area. She hurried along the side street, calling as she went. "Jenny!"
Halfway down the block, Kate saw the watercolor.
The paper was caught in the hedge. The wind pinned it against the leafless branches. Across the top, "Spring Is Here" was printed in bold letters. The contrast between the black letters and the red watercolor house with the crooked green roof was stark. Beside the house stood a brown animal, more llama than dog. Jenny always painted her dogs that way. Even when Kate had shown her how a dog should look, she continued to paint the llama-like creatures, because they looked funnier.
Snatching up the painting, she stared at it for a moment, then opened her mouth as she gasped for air. Her heart pounded enough to break her ribs.
Dear God, where was Jenny?
Kate began to run, holding the backpack and the picture against her chest as she raced home. Stumbling up the stairs, she wrenched the door open and shoved it closed before running along the hall to the kitchen. She placed the picture on the countertop, lined it up against the edge, and stroked her fingertips across Jenny's signature.
She bit her lip in indecision. Shouldn't she call the neighbors or search outside. A sense of dread invaded her. Jenny never would have left her picture and backpack. She raised her hand and dialed 911.
"Pickard Police Department."
She opened her mouth, but the muscles in her throat refused to work.
"Pickard Police Department," the voice repeated.
"It's my daughter, J ... Jenny."
"Has there been an accident, ma'am?"
"No. Something's happened to her. I saw her get off the bus, but she just disappeared."
"What do you mean, she disappeared?"
"I found her backpack. And her watercolor. But I can't find Jenny." It was an effort to speak. Her mouth trembled after each syllable, so she tried to keep her answers short in order to maintain control.
"All right, ma'am. Let me get some information." The male voice was firm and reasonable. "Nice and slow now."
"Oh God, I'm so frightened!" Tears trickled down her cheeks, but the sheer act of speaking her fears aloud had a calming effect. She drew a shuddering breath. "Sorry. I'm okay."
"I understand you're upset, but you'll need to stay calm. Now then, your name and address?"
Please hurry, Kate begged as she rattled off the information.
"How old is Jenny?"
"Eight. She'll be nine in September."
"Would you describe her, please?"
"She has shoulder-length black hair. It's straight but it curls at the ends. Her eyes are blue. Her skin is sort of an ivory color."
Kate put her hand just below her bosom in order to measure. Her mouth pulled tight in a grimace as she remembered Jenny hugging her before she left for school. For a moment she was unable to speak for the vividness of the little body pressed to her own. Voice hoarse, she spoke into the receiver. "She's about three and a half feet. Just little, very little."
"Okay I've got that. What was she wearing?"
Kate closed her eyes, picturing Jenny at breakfast. "She had on a blue and gray plaid jumper. White short-sleeved blouse with an appliquéd pink rose on the collar. White sneakers with blue shoelaces and white knee socks." She wiped away the tears on her chin with the back of her hand. "And a yellow nylon jacket. Bright yellow."
"Was she wearing any jewelry?"
"Yes. A bracelet. Gold links with one guardian angel charm. The initials JLW are on the back of the charm."
"All right, Mrs. Warner. Are you at home now?"
"Yes. I'm here."
"I've already dispatched a car, and in the meantime we'll send this information out on the radio. I want you to go through each room of the house to see if your daughter might have come in while you were out looking for her. Be sure to check the closets and under the beds. Attic and basement too, if you have them."
"And I'll look outside, too."
"Just inside, Mrs. Warner," directed the steady voice. "I know you want to run around the neighborhood and look, but we need you near the phone. In case your daughter calls. Do you understand?"
"Yes, but please hurry."
"Don't worry, Mrs. Warner. We'll find Jenny."
At the last, she heard some warmth in the voice on the other end of the phone. Kate replaced the receiver and ran her fingers over the cold plastic surface as though to let go would break the tenuous bond she had to another person.
She had finished searching the house when the police arrived.
Kate explained to the two police officers how she had found Jenny's watercolor and backpack. Feeling a kinship with the female officer, she spoke directly to her.
"I know something's happened to her." Kate's mouth trembled.
Officer Gates nodded in sympathy. "I know you're worried sick but believe me, Mrs. Warner, this time of year we always get a lot of calls. It's the change in weather. The kids get to playing outside and lose track of the time."
Kate turned to the other police officer for confirmation. His gray hair, potbelly, and ruddy face should have reassured her, but his expression was closed, giving nothing away. He reached in his shirt pocket for a pencil, cradled a clipboard in his left arm, and without meeting her eyes began to ask questions, printing each answer awkwardly, as if he had just learned to write. At the end he sighed, returned the pencil to his pocket and asked for a picture of Jenny.
"We have one of those child ID kits," Kate said. She opened the desk drawer and reached inside for the folder. Her hand shook as she handed it to the older officer. "We put a new picture in a couple months ago when we went to the zoo. It was cold that day so her cheeks are too red but otherwise she looks the same."
"This'll be a big help, Mrs. Warner," Officer Gates said.
"She brought the kit home from school. We didn't think we'd ever need it, but we kept it up to date anyway." Kate's voice trailed away, and in silence she walked the police officers to the door.
Move! Get out of here!
The words were silent, reverberating inside his head, but, numb to everything except the horror of his actions, his body refused to respond. A tremor started in his hands, advancing up his arms in a wave so strong he stared down to see if there was something traveling across his skin.
His body shook and a cry started in his chest, bitten off when he ground his teeth together. The truncated sound broke through his inertia and he blinked, then turned his head from side to side to survey the area around the car. The picnic area adjacent to the parking lot of the forest preserve was empty.
No witnesses. Thank God!
Fear of discovery spurred him to action and with great effort he raised his hand to turn the key. He gripped the steering wheel with one hand and in slow motion eased the lever into reverse. The car lurched backward with a squeal of tires. He slammed on the brakes, choked back a curse and once more changed gears, this time accelerating slightly. Sweat broke out on his forehead as he struggled to control his speed. He wanted to mash his foot to the floor and tear away but knew such action would increase the risk of being seen and remembered.
Slow. There's a car ahead. Turn your head as you pass.
His brain issued commands and his body obeyed.
Don't speed. Turn right. Slow for the light.
When he left the forest preserve and entered the suburban streets, the tension began to ease. The grid-patterned streets brought him a sense of balance and, with each turn, he could feel the muscles of his neck and shoulders relax. His breathing deepened, no longer shallow or gasping. He drove with no destination in mind, aware of a gnawing sense of urgency to distance himself from the forest preserve.
No one must know. No one must know, no one must know, no one!
The words crescendoed in a jumble of unintelligible sounds until the noise made him sick to his stomach. He opened his mouth, inhaling to dissipate the nausea.
Gas station. Slow.
He pulled the car against the side wall of the building, away from the front windows, which had a floor-to-ceiling view of the gas pumps. He shut off the engine and hurried toward the restroom. His movements were wooden, his knee joints frozen in an effort to keep his body upright. As he eased inside the bathroom, he risked a quick look around but there was no one in sight. He shoved the bolt across to secure the door.
Bile rose, burning a pathway up his throat. He made it to the toilet just in time, bending over as the vomit spewed from his mouth and his nose. His stomach convulsed and he gagged, fighting to catch his breath before he threw up again. He wrapped his arms around his torso, hugging his body against the force of the spasms that ripped through his abdomen.
Afterwards he struggled across to the washbasin. He turned on the tap and scooped up water to wash his face and rinse away the bitter taste. When his mouth began to feel cleaner, he cupped his hands and lapped at the water with his tongue, gulping and slurping to quench his raging thirst.
He never should have stopped, but the urges were strong. Just one touch had ripped away his control and by giving in to impulse, the ending was inevitable. He couldn't change what he'd done. What mattered now was that he get away.
Hunched over the sink, he rested on his arms, letting the water run over his fingers. His eyes were closed and he rocked back and forth, willing his body to pick up the strong cadence of his heart.
He heard a metallic clink and froze. He raised his head, but the sound was not repeated. As he leaned forward, he heard it again and looked down. A short length of gold chain was caught on his jacket and struck against the porcelain with the light tinkle of a string of bells. In his mind, small hands pushed against his chest and he sucked in his breath at the instant reminder of the body squirming against his own.
Disentangling the child's bracelet, he cradled it in his hand where it glistened against the wet skin. The clasp was broken, the opening bent at an angle, but the gold charm, a winged angel, was still attached.
Holding the bracelet between thumb and index finger, he placed it in a paper towel and rubbed it free of fingerprints, then wadded it inside the paper and pushed the bundle down among the other trash in the wastebasket.
The moment his fingers lost contact with the bracelet, he was struck by such a strong sense of loss that he rooted through the rubbish until he found it again.
He knew the danger of keeping such an object. The bracelet was physical evidence that could destroy him, but perhaps it would be worth the risk if he used it as a reminder that he must never again give in to impulse. The gold links would become a sacred ring. His talisman.
Sliding the bracelet into his pant's pocket, his fingers rustled among the empty candy wrappers until he found a full one. His thumbnail forced its way beneath the cellophane to push the candy free. He pulled it out and pushed it between his lips, coaxing it into the center of his nested tongue. He sucked it, the pervasive butterscotch flavor banishing the acrid taste in his mouth.
He straightened his back, dropped his shoulders, and blew out two steadying gusts of air, like an athlete preparing for an event. His hands were steady as he unbolted the door.
When Kate heard the key in the front door, she remained in her chair. From the living room, she watched as the door opened and Richard stepped into the hall. For an instant she clung to her belief in miracles hoping that Jenny would appear behind his tall, slim figure.
Richard's deep voice broke the spell that immobilized her, and she sagged against the back of the chair with a sigh. The sound caught Richard's attention, and he flipped the light switch beside the door.
"What are you doing sitting in the dark?"
Although it was still light outside, the house was shadowed with the approach of evening. He dropped his briefcase beside the hall table and entered the living room, turning on lights as he came toward her. When she didn't speak, his expression changed to one of alarm.
"What is it, Kate? What's wrong?"
"What do you mean missing?"
Excerpted from Death Angel by Martha Powers. Copyright © 2006 Martha Powers. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Martha Powers is an award-winning author, sought-after speaker, and humorist. She is the author of nine Regency novels and two thrillers published by Simon and Schuster. Her latest novel, Death Angel (Oceanview) was named a finalist in both the Royal Palm Literary Awards, and National Best Books 2006 Awards, and was selected as a Book Sense Pick. Martha lives in Vero Beach, Florida.
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