Read an Excerpt
Murder at Redwood Cove
By Janet Finsilver
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Janet Finsilver
All rights reserved.
What a horrible way to die — falling forty feet and landing on jagged rocks in the swirling ocean. I couldn't stop thinking about what my boss had told me, even as I forced my attention back to the present. My nails dug into the armrests as the small plane tilted to the side.
My thoughts slid away again. How did the accident happen? Had the inn's manager, the man I was replacing, slipped and fallen on a rugged edge? Had a piece of the treacherous cliff crumbled beneath him?
My fingers traced the embossed company emblem in the stiff brown leather briefcase resting on the seat next to me. When my employer, Michael Corrigan, called and instructed me to get to the bed-and-breakfast as quickly as possible, I felt a surge of excitement mixed with anxiety. It was my first assignment as an executive administrator for Resorts International. A rush of fear followed. It was also my fourth job in three years, not counting my work on the family ranch. Would this one be the fit I had failed to find? Was there even a niche out there for me?
The aircraft dipped and bucked its way through one air pocket after another. I gripped the armrests tighter, stomach lurching with each bump, and resisted the temptation to squeeze my eyes shut. The aircraft lined up with a toothpick-sized landing strip cut out of a thick stand of trees. Lower ... lower ... the wheels bumped, and the plane swerved from side to side. Off in the distance, the small patch of dirt runway ended abruptly at a cliff 's edge. Only open ocean beyond.
The pilot steadied the wheel, and the plane's path straightened out. I let go of the seat and uncurled my stiff fingers.
He turned. "Welcome to Mendocino County."
I took a deep breath. "Thanks for getting me here on such short notice."
The pilot taxied the plane toward a black Mercedes. "Most people wouldn't thank me after going through all that turbulence." He chuckled.
"My family has a resort in Wyoming with backcountry lodges we fly into. I never learned to like rides like this, but I got used to them."
I zipped up my down jacket, glad I'd left it on for the chilly flight. The plane stopped, and I unbuckled the seat belt, stood, and pulled my tan cowboy hat down by the chin strap from the overhead bin, the braided horsehair coarse to the touch. I stared at the parting gift from my family and then looked at the portfolio. The known and loved in one hand and the new in the other.
The pilot finished adjusting his controls, got up, opened the door, and unlatched the steps.
"Michael is a good friend of mine. When he called and asked if I could fly you in from Santa Rosa, I was happy to help."
I slung the briefcase over my shoulder and held my hat by the brim. I stepped out and grabbed on to the railing to descend the narrow ladder. A blast of cold ocean air whipped my hair around my face, stinging my cheeks. I touched solid ground with one foot, then the other, and breathed a sigh of relief.
The pilot followed me down and pulled my luggage from the cargo area.
A long pencil of a man approached, tugging at a sleeve of his black jacket. "Hi. I'm Daniel Stevens, from Redwood Cove Bed-and-Breakfast."
I extended my hand. "Kelly Jackson, executive administrator with Resorts International."
We shook hands, and he reached for my carry-on and duffel bag and turned to the car. A sleek black ponytail swung across his back. The high cheekbones and almond-colored skin hinted at Native American ancestry.
He put the bags down and started to open the front passenger door for me. Hesitating, he reached for the door to the backseat instead.
"Front seat is fine," I assured him. "Better view."
He opened the front door. "I'll load your things, and we'll be off." The wind picked up, and he buttoned the bottom two buttons of his jacket over his starched white shirt. He ran his finger around the stiff collar.
I settled into the passenger seat, put the briefcase on the floor, and placed my hat on top of it. Looking out at the ocean, I noticed a wall of fog hunkered down on the horizon.
Daniel got in. "Sorry about the mix-up with the doors" — he started the car — "I haven't picked up guests before. I don't know the protocol."
His shoulders dropped a fraction of an inch.
I leaned back into the leather. Right. Bob Phillips would've picked me up. But he was dead.
"How is Mr. Phillips's wife doing? I understand she suffered a heart attack."
"She's in Santa Rosita Hospital in intensive care. Her kids are with her."
We slowly drove off the gravel road and pulled onto California's Coastal Highway One.
"They'd been married thirty-two years," Daniel said.
Thirty-two years. A lifetime. My marriage had lasted four. I couldn't imagine the depth of the woman's loss. A piece of her life had vanished.
Even in early afternoon, the tall redwood border heavily shadowed the road. Glimpses of blue water flickered through the trees. I pulled myself out of my contemplation of the scenery and back to the work I had to do.
"Daniel, I'd like to go to the site of the accident first. The company wants me to send a report and see if there's anything that suggests we should add some new warning information in our guest booklets."
"No problem. It's pretty much on our way."
"The company job description says you're a maintenance supervisor. I'd like to know more about what you do."
He smiled for the first time. "That's a fancy title for handyman and jack-of- all-trades. My usual uniform is a denim shirt and jeans." He turned off the highway, following a sign directing them to Redwood Cove. "The B&B is a historic mansion. Upkeep is ongoing. I do some of the work and schedule what needs to be done by specialists. Recently Bob had me helping with the books and payments."
"Thanks for the information. I'll be managing the property until someone else can be hired. I'm sure I'll have some questions for you."
We drove through a couple of short town blocks filled with nineteenth-century New England — style architecture and then out onto a wide, open area of grass and bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
"These are the headlands." He parked in an empty lot. "Bob walked here often. It's public parkland."
Daniel led the way along a dirt path that meandered near the cliff's border then dropped down about ten feet below the edge. We walked out onto a flat area surrounded by ocean on three sides. He pointed to craggy, kelp-covered rocks below. "That's where he was found."
I had envisioned a trail close to the rim that might have collapsed or a place where people heard the siren call of a better view and stepped too far out. But a few people could comfortably picnic at this site, and the view was pretty much the same from wherever you looked out on the small plateau.
I frowned. "Do they know what happened?"
"Not sure. The police are doing an autopsy. Checking to see if he had a stroke or a heart attack." He looked at his feet and then to the froth-capped waves below.
"Is there anything else?" I prodded gently.
A momentary pause. "No." Daniel turned, and his long legs took him quickly to the top of the bluff. I joined him. We stopped and gazed down one more time.
"No, get back!" The wind snatched the shrill scream of a child. "Get back! Get back!"
A small boy rode his bike in our direction, struggling to stay upright on the sandy path. A stubby-legged dog worked to keep up, huge ears flapping in the wind. The bike began to topple. He jumped off, dropped it, and ran toward us, waving two slim arms above his head, shouting. The baying dog next to him had more luck being heard.
The boy stumbled and crashed face-first into tall grass next to the trail. We both ran to him. Daniel reached him just as the boy sat up, terrified eyes glued on the slender man. Tears streamed down his cheeks.
My heart wrenched at the anguish on the boy's face.
Daniel knelt beside him. "Tommy, are you hurt?"
A slight shake of his head from side to side. The boy began taking in gulps of air, faster and faster. Then deep sobs started.
Daniel put his arms around him and held him close.
"It's my fault," the boy struggled to speak. "It's my fault he's dead." His small fist struck Daniel's starched white shirt, leaving a brown smudge. "It's my fault."CHAPTER 2
Another hit. The dog poked his large head into the boy's side.
Daniel held him closer.
The boy sank into the man's chest, burying his face. His slender shoulders heaved as the sobs continued. "He's dead. Uncle Bob's dead."
A soul-grabbing sound like nothing I'd ever heard filled the air. The hound's head was thrown back, nose pointed to the sky, ears dangling down his back, as he howled a chilling, baritone cry.
"Quiet," Daniel said sternly.
The dog's head came down, and his muzzle snapped shut.
Souls were saved.
The boy unfolded slowly out of Daniel's arms, stood, and wiped his eyes on the arm of his gray sweatshirt, leaving wet blotches on the sleeve.
"Are you okay?" I stepped toward him.
He nodded in reply but didn't say a word.
"I'm Ms. Jackson." I leaned down and put my hand out. "What's your name?" He appeared about ten.
I received a tentative, small hand in return and gently shook it.
Puffy red eyes looked at me. "Tommy," came the barely audible whisper.
"Nice to meet you." I looked at the canine that was seriously studying me. "What's your dog's name?"
The dog's lips pulled back in a grin at the mention of his name. His small tank of a body wiggled from one end to the other as he gazed at the boy.
"Come on. Time to get you home." Daniel stood and ruffled Tommy's light blond hair. He turned to me. "His mom works at the inn, and they live on site."
I walked to the bike and picked it up.
"I can get that." Daniel reached for it.
"I'm fine. You have two charges to take care of."
The tricolored dog lumbered beside us as we walked up the trail, Daniel's hand resting on Tommy's shoulder. A gust of wind sent a faint mist from the ocean over us, the salty tang filling my nostrils.
What on earth had the boy meant when he said it was his fault Bob Phillips was dead? I was dying to ask the question, but I knew now wasn't the time.
Daniel pulled keys from his pocket as we approached the car and aimed one at the trunk. By the time we reached it, the lid was up. He placed the bike in the back and put rags under the protruding front wheel. I spied a couple of blankets. "You're well supplied." I grabbed them and covered part of the backseat to protect it from Fred's doggi-ness.
"This is country living up here. You go prepared." He tied the lid down with rope. "Tommy, you and Fred hop in the back."
The boy climbed in. Daniel reached down to help the short-legged animal maneuver onto the car seat. Fred gave Tommy a quick lick and leaned against him.
We drove from the headlands to Redwood Cove Bed-and-Breakfast in less than ten minutes. Daniel turned the Mercedes into a narrow driveway. A two-story white clapboard house and a riot of periwinkle blue, fuchsia, and deep gold among massive amounts of green vegetation came into view. Bursts of white flowers climbed upward on a lush vine. Every eave dripped ornate curls of gingerbread trim. A well-dressed Victorian lady.
Passing the guest parking, we pulled into a loading area at the back of the house and parked next to a red Toyota pickup with Redwood Cove Bed-and-Breakfast painted on the side.
Daniel opened the rear door. "Out you come." He helped Fred make the descent. Tommy jumped out after him and ran for the house.
He took the porch stairs two at a time. He stopped at the back door, his hand on the knob, and glanced back. "Thank you, Daniel." His pale face turned to me. "Nice to meet you, Ms. Jackson." He opened the door, held it for Fred, and rushed inside.
Grabbing my hat and briefcase, I stepped out, took a welcome stretch, and sighed. A red-eye flight from Cheyenne, small planes in between, and hours of missed sleep hit me like a two-by-four.
Daniel smiled. "I'll get your bags and meet you inside. We can fix you tea or coffee, if you'd like."
"Coffee would be great. Thanks." I walked up the wooden stairs, following the boy's path. I entered a warm, embracing work area and kitchen combined and almost swooned as the aroma of baking cookies enveloped me. Right. Food. Hours ago there had been a rubbery-egg airport breakfast.
Two women looked up from a large table covered with neatly stacked piles of paper. A young blonde approached, an almost visible energy field surrounding her. "I'm Suzie Ward, manager of Ralston Hotel. Our place is just down the road." The enthusiastic hand I shook gave me a spark of energy.
"Kelly Jackson, Resorts International."
The other woman, large-framed and gaunt, slowly rose and walked around the table. "I'm Helen Rogers." She extended her hand. It was limp, as if unable to hold its own weight.
The spark extinguished, and my shoulders sagged.
"I came over to help Helen." Suzie looked away. "Bob's death has been difficult. The community lost one of its finest members."
"I'm sorry." I wished I had comforting words to ease the pain, but no magic vocabulary materialized.
"I see Tommy came home with you. I'm his mom, and I'm an assistant here." Helen ran her fingers through short, wavy brown hair interlaced with gray. "I'm so glad to have you here." Dark hollows beneath her eyes hinted at sleepless nights.
Daniel entered. "I'll put your bags in your room."
"I'll go with you. It's been a long day, and I want to freshen up." I looked at the women. "I'll be taking over Bob's duties until his position is filled. I'll be back shortly. I'd appreciate it if you'd catch me up on what's happening." The corners of my mouth managed a slight upward curve, defying the gravity of tiredness. "It's nice meeting you."
I followed Daniel down a narrow, wood-floored hallway. He paused as he started to turn left and pointed to a door on our right. "That's our conference room. Extra linens are in the closet next to it."
The hall had long, rectangular windows framing a lush backyard. We headed toward a door at the end of the hallway. Daniel unlocked it, and we stepped into a large, bright room. He deposited my bags on the floor.
A studio apartment–sized beige couch occupied the right side with a large oak cabinet directly ahead. An open door in the far corner revealed the edge of a bed. However, what demanded my attention was the part of the room that pushed out into a small strip of garden and pulled in the ocean beyond. Almost at cliff's edge — glass roof, glass to the floor.
"Yeah, it's pretty spectacular." He stared with me for a moment. "We have a lot of foggy days here. Light's at a premium."
A small table with four chairs, window seats, and a beckoning recliner completed the furnishings. I spied a wood-burning stove against the wall near the sunroom. I put my things on the couch, took off my jacket, and tossed it on top of them.
"This is a self-contained unit." He led me to a galley-like area. "There's a small fridge stocked with a variety of food choices. Nothing fancy, but handy for late nights or long afternoons." A two-burner stove with a microwave above it provided the basic preparation equipment. And then there was the gleaming coffeemaker.
I laughed. "A sailboat kitchen that has a commercial-grade coffee machine with all the bells and whistles." My big, burly boss, Michael Corrigan, owner of Resorts International, prized a quality cup of coffee. A note on the glistening giant said fresh beans were in the canisters.
"Priorities. What can I say?" Daniel grinned. He walked back into the main room, opened a cabinet, and slid out a state-of-the-art computer. "There are file folders here" — he pulled out a drawer — "and office supplies are in that one." He pointed to the other side. "Your company does it right."
"Yes, it does." I looked around and then turned back to him. "Daniel, it's been a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for all your help."
"I'm sorry about Bob Phillips. It must be hard on everyone."
"It is. He was a great guy."
We looked at each other for a moment. Strangers sharing a moment of sadness.
Excerpted from Murder at Redwood Cove by Janet Finsilver. Copyright © 2015 Janet Finsilver. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.