Stolen Hearts (Grace Street Series #1)by Jane Tesh
David Randall is a lively, carefree fellow with a talent for finding things whose perfect family life is derailed when he loses his little daughter Lindsey in a car crash. He is haunted by her in dreams, fearful she blames him. Thrown out by his second wife and wanting to leave a dead-end detective agency to start his own, he reluctantly accepts/b>/b>
David Randall is a lively, carefree fellow with a talent for finding things whose perfect family life is derailed when he loses his little daughter Lindsey in a car crash. He is haunted by her in dreams, fearful she blames him. Thrown out by his second wife and wanting to leave a dead-end detective agency to start his own, he reluctantly accepts his psychic friend Camden’s invitation to stay in Camden’s boarding house, 302 Grace Street, in Parkland, North Carolina. Here he meets Kary Ingram, the lovely young woman who’ll become the love of his life, Ellin Belton, Camden’s intensely ambitious girlfriend, and an ever-changing assortment of Camden’s tenants, all searching for a home and family.
Randall’s only clue to the murder of Albert Bennett is a notebook filled with odd musical notation. When his client, Melanie Gentry, hires him to prove her great-grandmother was murdered by her lover, John Burrows Ashford, over authorship of “Patchwork Melodies,” Randall sets out to find a connection to Bennett’s murder, as well as the murder of a Smithsonian director, who was preparing a new PBS documentary on early American music.
When Randall’s investigations lead him to another notebook, he finds not only “Two Hearts Singing,” John Ashford’s most famous song, but a valuable early copy of Stephen Foster’s “Oh! Susanna,” hidden in the cover. Things become even more complicated when Ashford’s spirit parks himself in Cam and refuses to leave until Randall proves Ashford’s innocence.
"Tesh...gets her new series off to a promising start." —Kirkus Reviews
"Tesh’s entertaining third cozy…[has] Amusing characters and charming village atmosphere"—Publishers Weekly of A Little Learning
"This is a really good start to the new series. Both David and Cam are strong characters and the plot keeps the pages turning." —Bookloons
Read an Excerpt
Stolen HeartsA Grace Street Mystery
By Jane Tesh
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2011 Jane Tesh
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I've Found a New Baby"
I didn't expect a murder to happen right down the street from my second wife's house, but then, I didn't expect a lot of things, including sleeping in my car. Admittedly, there's plenty of room in the back seat of a '67 Plymouth Fury, but October in Parkland, North Carolina, can be pretty steamy, even at dawn, so I was awake when the sirens and flashing lights came by.
My first wife, Barbara, and I parted ways two years ago. I really thought Anita and I might make it to our second anniversary—aluminum foil, I believe it is—but now that was another date I could scratch off the calendar. I'd parked outside my former home telling myself it was because Anita might relent and let me back in, but the real reason was I had nowhere else to go.
When I first heard the sirens, I was in that odd state of not quite awake not quite asleep, and my heart jumped, thinking I was back on that hillside twelve years ago searching for Lindsey through clouds of black smoke, not realizing my world was about to end. I shook myself as blue and red lights bounced off the interior of the Fury and zigzagged through the neighborhood like some crazed lightning. The eerie blue light made the trees look like they'd risen from some alien swamp and gave a zombie glow to the few curious neighbors who'd ventured from their houses. Car doors slammed. Shadowy figures ran and called to each other.
Lindsey! My God, where was she?
I shook myself fully awake. Get up! I told myself. This wasn't the wreck. This was something else, maybe something that needed my help. I wanted in on what was happening down the street.
When I arrived at the scene, my friend Jordan Finley, one of Parkland's homicide detectives, scowled at me.
"I saw that car of yours. What are you doing here?"
"I live down the street," I said. "Well, I used to."
Jordan spared me a brief look of sympathy. We'd worked together on several cases. Maybe "worked together" isn't the right term. When there's something like a dead body, I definitely call him, but there have been times when I fudged a little and kept clues to myself. Jordan likes to claim all the credit for solving a crime. I can't blame him. I like to claim all the credit, too. He's built like a refrigerator topped with a stiff brush of black hair and wary blue eyes. Right now, he was a refrigerator about to freeze over so you couldn't get the door open.
"And you just happened to be dressed and awake?"
"Anita threw me out, but never mind that." A body was brought out of the house on a stretcher, an elderly man in his pajamas. The bloodstains on his head looked black in the jarring patterns of blue and red light. "What happened here?"
"Albert Bennett was found murdered in his home. Did you know Mr. Bennett?"
I couldn't remember ever seeing anyone at this house. "No."
"Did you see or hear anything unusual last night?"
Besides my recurring nightmare? "No."
"Then you can move along."
Another policeman came up to Jordan and showed him a notebook. "Found this on the lawn. Doesn't appear to be anything else missing from the house."
The notebook had been mangled, and a few pages fell out. I managed to pick them up and have a look before Jordan grabbed them out of my hand. My brief glance had shown me what looked like music.
Jordan glared. "Do you mind?" He gave the pages back to the policeman. "What's inside?"
"Just some music notes and weird scribbling. Looks like code."
"Check it out."
The policeman left, and Jordan turned to me. "Heard you left Morton's."
"Yeah. I've got to go by and pick up a few things, but I'm done."
"Packing it in? Giving up being a detective?"
I wasn't sure what else I could do. "Morton's is a dead-end agency. I thought I'd give it a shot on my own, which is why I'd like in on this case."
Jordan signaled another policeman to move around to the other side of the house. "Doesn't look like much of a case. Someone broke in, possibly surprised Bennett, knocked him over the head and killed him, possibly by accident. Alarm goes off, they cut and run."
"Why would they be after a notebook?"
"That's what my team is going to find out."
"Does Mr. Bennett have any family?"
"That's something the police department will find out." Jordan gave me another look. "So, you got a place to stay?"
"Not at the moment."
"See if Cam's got a room."
I had one more friend left in the world, but did I really want to call him? He'd let me stay in his house. Camden lets anybody stay in his house. I called his goofball tenants the Sponge and Leech Club because, as far as I could tell, no one contributed a penny. The last time I was there, he was sheltering some old codger named Fred plus two factory workers who argued all the time and chased each other around the kitchen with a baseball bat and a water gun because one of them left the ice trays out. That was two years ago, when Anita and I were on the outs about something. I stayed for a week until I got tired of all the nonsense.
Until you got tired of avoiding Camden and his all-knowing stares, I reminded myself. I'm an only child and like to think of Camden as the brother I never had, but he's psychic, which sounds like a lot of fun, but most of the time it's damned annoying. He knew what my problem was. I knew what my problem was, too, and I didn't want to talk about it, or have Camden delve into my brain for the answers. In fact, I hadn't seen him in a long time. I kept telling myself it was because I was too busy.
It started to rain, and the inside of the Fury steamed up like a rain forest. I cranked up the air, and as soon as the windows were clear, I headed toward the nearest Motel 6. It takes about twenty minutes to navigate the one-way streets in town, crossing Smith and Elm to get to Regent, which is the main street going back out of the city. Plenty of time to rethink my life.
My life. What there was left of it. My life went off the rails when Lindsey died. Instead of clinging to each other, Barbara and I grew apart. We both blamed me for the accident. I bounced over to Anita. I don't know what I was thinking. It was vastly unfair to her, and to her credit, she figured out she couldn't fix me. I was useless.
But I wasn't going to be useless forever. I headed back to Albert Bennett's, hoping the crime scene team had finished and maybe I could look around, but no luck. The police cars were still there, the lights still shuddering through the neighborhood. I'd establish a base camp and come back later. I'd been jarred awake, not only from sleep, but from the dullness of my daily routine tracking deadbeat dads and cheating spouses. I wanted to solve this puzzling crime, a wealthy man with plenty of possessions, apparently murdered over a damn notebook. If I couldn't make Lindsey's life right, I sure as hell could avenge someone else's.
The situation called for a little mood music. At the next red light, I slid a CD into the player. I like traditional jazz, a preference from my early days when Dad played his favorite records during dinner and on into the evening. He liked The Dukes of Dixieland, a bunch of cheerful-looking guys in red and white striped jackets who tore into every tune so vigorously, it was impossible to sit still when the Dukes were rolling. Later, Dad and I progressed to the New Black Eagle Jazz Band, and that's what I had on now, specifically a zippy little number called "I've Found a New Baby." It helps me think. A burst of jazz makes my brain perk up, putting thoughts together like a run of notes along a staff.
But at the moment, my brain wasn't too perky. I pulled into the parking lot of the Motel 6 and looked at the drab building with its rows of dingy white doors, the empty beer cans, and plastic cups piled on the curb. I caught a strong whiff of rotten garbage from the overflowing Dumpster. The spluttering neon sign said "No Vacancy." I slumped in the car, trying not to see my life as a long row of large doors slamming in my face. There were hundreds of motels in Parkland. I'd keep sleeping in the Fury if I had to. Either way, it was clear that I needed refreshments.
The nearest convenience store was a little shop called Joe's Market just across the street. I found several packs of the fluorescent orange peanut butter crackers I like and was heading to the back for the beer when to my disbelief, Camden came up the aisle carrying a six-pack of Bud.
"Thought you might need this," he said.
As usual, he looked like he'd slept in his clothes. His pale hair was in his eyes, and his shirt was buttoned crooked. He had on baggy white trousers and a black vest decorated with iridescent hummingbirds, probably pulled from the depths of some Goodwill bag. Like me, he's fast approaching the big three-oh, but he looks years younger, because he's not very tall and has features women call "cute," and big blue eyes. Anita once told me women go for expressive eyes and that Camden's were "beautiful." She told me mine were nice, too, but that was an afterthought. Mine are brown and I can see out of them. That's all I care about.
And I wasn't really sure what I was seeing out of my brown eyes. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. "You frequent Joe's Market this time of day?"
"Sometimes. What's up?"
You tell me, I wanted to say. I knew he wasn't buying beer for himself. He has absolutely no tolerance for alcohol. A couple of sips and he's up on a table entertaining the troops, which is what he was doing when we met. There's something about sharing massive hangovers that creates a lifelong bond.
A bond that was scary right now.
"I've been pretty busy," I said. "Tracking down people, finding things. Anita decided she'd had enough of me, so I'm checking into a motel for the night."
He gave me the full force of those eerie blue eyes. "Well, I'm glad I ran into you. I need a ride home."
He said this with complete innocence. I knew he didn't drive. Too many signals coming in, he says.
I paid for my crackers, and Camden paid for the beer. We got into the Fury and I steered the car back toward the south side of town. After passing the community college and the coliseum, I turned back on Old Parkland Road, also known as "Food Row." Every town has one of these streets lined with fast food restaurants, but our Food Row has a median filled with magnolia trees, and when those trees are in bloom, the heavy flower scent mixed with the smell of burgers and fries is a heady combination. Then up three streets, and it's as if you've entered an entirely different city: calm, quiet, and green. It used to be the wealthy part of town, before all the rich folks moved to the suburbs, leaving their massive old homes hidden beneath ancient trees.
Camden's house is on Grace Street, number 302. It's a big three-storied house painted light yellow with white trim. It must have been quite a showplace in its day, but now, like all the houses in the neighborhood, it's sliding gracefully into old age. Because it's surrounded by even older trees, even when the sun is at its brightest, the house is still sunk in shade. There's a wide porch that goes around three sides complete with rocking chairs and a porch swing. When Camden came to Parkland, he lived there and helped the man who owned the house remodel it, making four bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, on the second floor, and another bedroom and bath out of the large attic. They worked out some sort of deal that if Camden kept up the house, he could live there. When the man moved on to other projects, he sold Camden the house. In order to keep it, Camden has to take in boarders, but, as I said, they usually aren't very helpful.
I parked the Fury in the dirt driveway. "Here you go."
"Thanks," he said. "Why don't you come in and have one of your beers?"
I was tired and thirsty and not ready to continue my motel hunt. "I guess I could do that. Just for a little while, though."
We walked up the wide stone steps. Camden opened the screen door, and we went in.
"Have a seat, Randall. I'll be right back."
I had to admit it was a relief to come into the house. Everything looked the same as it did two years ago. The smell was the same, too, a pleasant mixture of old wood and cinnamon. The living room sprawled over most of the first floor, windows reaching from floor to ceiling. I walked around to the left and sat down in my favorite spot, a faded blue armchair beside a green corduroy sofa parked on brightly colored throw rugs. This area was referred to as "the island," a kind of relaxing place where you could leave your book open and no one would turn a page, or leave your drink by your chair and no one would take a slurp. I pulled off my wet shoes and socks and propped my feet on the low wooden coffee table where a bag of pretzels shared space with stacks of magazines, including Sky Watchers Monthly and UFO Reporter, a couple of necklaces, and a glass paperweight shaped like a pear holding down a stack of coupons. Beside the wicker rocking chair, red and yellow yarn spilled out of a big basket of needlework. Next to another chair, textbooks and sheet music stood in a sloppy tower, topped by a well-chewed pet toy.
I glanced to my left. The old upright piano still filled the corner of the room, surrounded by music and hymn books on the floor and on the bench. A couple of big plants in tubs guarded the bookshelf crammed with books, knickknacks, and photographs. Toward the back of the room, a large round dining room table and eight matching chairs were still positioned in front of the bay window that displayed a scene of wet green backyard and more huge trees. I knew if I walked around the dining area, I'd find a counter and stools and a kitchen tucked in behind the stairs.
Camden came back carrying a large plastic cup that no doubt held a mixture of the most caffeine-laden sodas on the market. He indicated the bag of pretzels. "Free snacks."
"Thanks." I popped open a beer and took a swig.
He sat cross-legged on the green corduroy sofa. He didn't ask for details about my latest marriage disaster. He didn't have to. He took a drink of his soda. "How are things at Morton's?"
"The same." I loosened my tie. "Going to start my own agency."
"Got someplace in mind?"
"You need an office? You can use the downstairs parlor there across the foyer."
I started to tell him I needed to find a place more private when a young woman came in. This girl was a knockout. Long corn-silk blonde hair held back by a headband framed a perfect face dominated by big warm brown eyes. Her long elegant legs were in tight jeans, the rest of her excellent figure in a soft yellow sweater. My mouth flopped open, but Camden wasn't fazed by this vision.
"Oh, hello." She gave me such a dazzling smile I checked my beer to make sure it wasn't foaming over. "I'm Kary Ingram."
I was surprised my voice worked. "David Randall."
"Randall will be staying here a few days," Camden said.
Another smile. "Nice to meet you, David. I hope the piano playing won't disturb you."
She could've played the tuba for all I cared. "I love piano music."
Her golden hair swung in a sleek wave as she turned to Camden. "Cam, about what we discussed earlier."
"It has to be your decision."
"Donnie's a wonderful person."
"Seems like a good guy."
"But am I doing this for the right reasons?"
"That's something you'll have to work out."
"That's true. Have you seen my Elements of Education textbook?"
"It's on the kitchen counter."
Kary went around to retrieve her book. "Kary's taking classes for her teaching degree at Parkland Community College," Camden said.
That was not the important info. "And who is Donnie?"
"A fellow she met at the college."
Damn. "Are they in a serious relationship?"
"Well, he is."
Kary came back and picked up a book bag propped beside the piano bench. "And if you'll excuse me, I'm on my way to class. Will we see you at dinner, David?"
Excerpted from Stolen Hearts by Jane Tesh Copyright © 2011 by Jane Tesh. 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.
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Meet the Author
Jane Tesh lives and writes in Mt. Airy, North Carolina. A media specialist/librarian for grades K-6 for 30 years, she retired to write and exercise her creative side. A rehearsal pianist and sometime orchestra conductor for community theater, she also plays the violin, and is a certified kick-boxing instructor.
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