The Secrets of Sadie Maynardby Linda Anderson
After making a name for herself in war zones around the world, photojournalist Memphis Maynard returns to her hometown in the hills of West Virginia on a most personal assignment. Her ex-lover, a tabloid reporter, is writing a juicy exposé about the sensational unsolved 1936 murder of Memphis’s grandmother, Sadie Maynard. Memphis is determined to beat him… See more details below
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After making a name for herself in war zones around the world, photojournalist Memphis Maynard returns to her hometown in the hills of West Virginia on a most personal assignment. Her ex-lover, a tabloid reporter, is writing a juicy exposé about the sensational unsolved 1936 murder of Memphis’s grandmother, Sadie Maynard. Memphis is determined to beat him to the punch. But what she finds is suspicious: close-mouthed townspeople committed to protecting Cutter Tate, the respected grandson of the now deceased prime suspect. And the only news they’re willing to share—the frequent sightings of Sadie’s ghost—strikes her as backwoods nonsense. But Memphis soon finds herself humming a hymn carried by the wind, noticing haunting lights in the woods, and feeling the undeniable touch of an otherworldly presence. As she and Cutter are thrown together, and forces threaten all they hold dear, Memphis must decide whether the spirit that’s guiding her is leading her to the answers she seeks, or warning her away from a long-dormant, and now reawakened, danger.
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Read an Excerpt
Silence spread through the Yancey County Country Club crowd like spilled whiskey on a hostess's best satin tablecloth. All heads turned toward the tall, rugged man entering the room.
Most men would have checked to see if their tie was in place, or run a swift hand along their jaw to see if they'd shaved close enough, but this man wore no tie, and he'd long since given up worrying about the five o'clock shadow on his square jaw.
Pared lean and hard, his shoulders rectangular rather than rounded, his frame seemed more for the backwoods than this privileged gathering. But the cut of the expensive navy blue sport coat he wore over faded jeans and immaculate white shirt indicated an accustomed ease in such surroundings. One dark, craggy eyebrow rose derisively then settled back in place.
Mack "Cutter" Tate, focus of the scrutiny, seethed inwardly but managed a genial smile. After all, he wasn't angry at the people who stared at him, just at the reason for their stares. He knew their rabid curiosity about his reaction to the latest newspaper headline was to be expected. But that didn't mean he had to like it. Nearly every person partying at this annual Indian summer celebration had a hand in his growing up.
Through the years, one or another had nurtured him, fed him, cursed him, even hidden him.
The small combo, back from its break, blasted out a fifties version of "Stagger Lee," the lights dimmed, and the disco ball on the ceiling whirled red and green strobes around the large room. People began to dance again, and others were content to munch on their barbecued ribs and fried chicken. The spell was broken.
Cuttersmiled down at the woman on his arm. Her pretty face showed confusion and embarrassment, although he also sensed a certain pride at the effect of their appearance.
"Don't worry, Alison. They won't bite."
"Are you sure?" she asked with a small laugh.
"Your lips are smiling, but those sexy gray eyes are grim," she teased.
"Having your life put on display by God and People magazine isn't the most pleasant of experiences."
"Jake Bishop isn't God, Cutter."
"No, God has his own agenda, which I have stopped trying to figure out," he said with a shade of bitterness. "But if Jake Bishop weren't a well-known reporter, and a master at revving up publicity, this whole thing would have been ignored. Only the Yancey Record would have run the story and that's bad enough. I'm just a poor, humble mining engineer, Alison."
She laughed. "A mining engineer you are. Poor and humble you are not."
He grinned hugely and tugged her into the dancing crowd.
"Hey, boy, how ya doin'?" A sweating, beer-toting fat man stopped his rock-and-roll gyrations to slap him on the back.
"Great, Billy, just great," shouted Cutter above the music as he quickly danced Alison past the fat man and his wife. He knew Billy Gus and Elva wanted to talk, find out how Cutter was handling the renewed interest in the old scandal, but he wasn't in the mood tonight.
"Don't let 'em get you down, big guy," shouted another man.
"Don't intend to, Bud."
The raucous music stopped and the band began to play a wobbly version of "Feelings." Cutter drew Alison close to him, but a young woman grabbed his arm.
"Cutter, I have to talk to you."
"Sure, Birdy, but later. Alison, this is Birdy Hatless, a neighbor and old friend. Birdy, this is my date, Alison Gardner. Alison lives in Charleston. You have kin in Charleston, don't you, Birdy?"
Birdy nodded her head and flicked a quick smile at Alison.
"Yes, you know I do, but Alison and I can gab later. You don't mind if I borrow him for a minute, do you?" she asked Alison. Her grasp on his arm tightened, and she pulled at him.
Cutter firmly, but gently, pried her fingers loose from his arm. "Come over for coffee in the morning. We'll talk then."
"But, Cutter, there's something you should know tonight."
"It'll wait, Birdy." He ignored her look of annoyance, waved good-bye to her, and guiding Alison by the elbow, headed toward the doors and out to the terrace.
A raspy crickets' choir greeted them. Cutter placed his arms on the stone wall, and leaned into the night, gazing out at the manicured greens and the mountains etched in the distance. Alison knew him well enough to leave him to his thoughts for a while, and he appreciated that.
This was the widest expanse of acreage in the narrow-cut mining valley. The mountains held close and fast to the bottom land in Yancey County, but the hills here around the golf course, unlike the rest of the deep, claustrophobic valley, were spaced so the sky was spread wide and viewable. He was glad of that tonight for he could see the stars painted bright, close and almost touchable. The North Star hung low over the trees.
It was a warm night, sweet with summer's finale, but a skipping breeze held the cool promise of fall. A waiting night, a night marking time, he thought, and shivered. Marking time for what, he wondered? More heartache?
He hated the emotions Jake Bishop's latest television spots had stirred within him. He dreaded the resurrection of old feelings and fears he'd thought long resolved and buried. Memories of his childhood, the grandfather who loved him, the father who hated him, and the law man who delighted in torturing him flashed before him like silent-movie stills. Low in his gut, a deep-seated pain he'd walled up and sealed away had already begun to gnaw its way to the surface. He hunched his shoulders forward, as if to relieve them of the tension gathering around him, and then stood straight, remembering the woman who waited patiently by his side.
"Sorry, Alison. I hope ail this hullabaloo hasn't ruined your weekend. We should have left Yancey, maybe gone to Bermuda, or Vegas, or...hell, I don't know, anywhere but here."
"You love it here, and besides, you can't escape your past, Cutter, no matter where you go."
"You're right. But, I'd learned to live with it, had even managed to feel it was a minor part of me, hardly thought of it anymore until this damned Sake Bishop showed up. The thing that mystifies me is why and how a former prominent war correspondent, turned rotten author, would latch onto a stale mystery hidden in the mountains of West Virginia."
"I don't know, darling, except that Bishop is having huge success with his book series about unsolved murders. Obviously, he's found that revealing old scandals is more profitable than reporting wars."
"His weekly appearances on American Notebook promoting the book are getting more sensational. The town is beginning to grumble about the unfair exposure it's getting, and I feel like they're blaming me."
"It's true mountain people don't like any invasion of their privacy, but I'm sure they're not blaming you. Let's forget about it for now. The evening is too lovely to waste."
"Ever the wise Alison."
She pulled her lacey wrap close around her shoulders. He realized the breeze had quickened while he'd ignored her and she was getting cold.
He pulled her to him, enjoying the soft pressure of her breasts against his chest. For a moment he wondered if his grandfather, in the midst of his own travails and in love with a woman he couldn't have, had taken refuge in another woman just for the joy of reveling in her fragrances, her sounds, the feel of her and nothing else. Just the feel of a woman and the comfort she could so warmly give.
One thing he knew for sure. He was experiencing only a portion of the powerful emotions his grandfather must have felt when the whole town suspected him of murder. Fighting the fog of suspicion was like finding your way out of a smoky room. Smothering and almost impossible.
Memphis sat straight up, drenched in cold sweat.
The haunting cry that had awakened her still rang in her ears. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, the shapes taking form in the room around her were familiar, and yet not. Where am I? The last time she'd felt this bone-wrenching fear was in the hospital in Bosnia. But she wasn't in Bosnia. Not in her Manhattan apartment either.
She fought the cold panic that curled through her like drifts of dry ice.
The old pain in her knee shot upward and lodged in her hip, reminding her that she'd done too much driving today.
Her elbow met the corner of a bedside table, and she groped for a lamp, flashlight, anything. Nothing but a glass of water, which she almost tipped over during her fumbling.
From an open window, a waft of cool, clean, pine-scented air dried some of the perspiration on her chest and forehead, and she suddenly remembered where she slept: the antiquated Victorian house where her mother, Faith, had grown up, and where Memphis and her sister Margo had spent several childhood summers.
Had she dreamed the eerie scream, or had it been her own cry? Had Katie cried out in her sleep? Heart pounding, Memphis reached to caress the soft, warm form of her eighteen-month-old daughter, who slept beside her. Katie's small back rose up and down in relaxed slumber. Memphis resisted the urge to pick her up and hold her close for comfort.
Had the ominous scream come from the woods behind the house? Ordinarily not easily spooked, her reaction to the unsettling sound bothered her. It was as if something unimaginable was out there, something she couldn't rationalize away.
She tried to summon up the Memphis of old, the Memphis who took any dare, who traipsed all over the world unafraid, and sometimes alone. Alone until she'd met Jake.
"Good old 'Jake the Snake.' The last person I need to think of right now," she said to herself in the stillness. "Wouldn't he get a big laugh? Me, all shaky."
Accustomed to the twinkling, festive lights of Manhattan, and sounds of traffic on the streets below, she felt the blackness of the mountain night outside the window close around her, pressing into the bedroom, enlarging her feeling of aloneness. Often she'd been alone on battlefields, the only woman among whizzing bullets and cursing men, and had never felt as vulnerable as she did now.
Loneliness was something she learned to live with, something she'd accepted as part of her, something she expected she would always have, but she'd never felt fear or vulnerability until Katie came into her life.
The miracle of her daughter had brought monumental love. A feeling of fierce kindredship for the small bundle of dependent energy, and a corresponding sense of responsibility and maternal protection had created the care with which she now tread. She had learned to take better care of herself, to be more judicious in her actions and her work.
Yet here she was in West Virginia, with Katie along, determined to right an age-old wrong. There had been a time in her life when this trip would have been a kick, a challenge. Her mission here would have been just another fast chapter in the adventures of Memphis Maynard, daring photojournalist. No more. She had Katie to think about now.
The decision to leave Manhattan and come to Yancey had been hasty, but imperative as far as she was concerned. Her editor had berated her, telling her he'd given her time off to enjoy Katie, not to burn herself out on some wild-goose chase to West Virginia.
Her sister, Margo, had said, "Oh, God, Mem, leave the whole mess alone. It's best forgotten." Then she'd flung her hands dramatically in the air and whooped with laughter. "Besides, I can't imagine you and Katie alone in that horror of a house. It's probably got cobwebs on the ceiling and mice in the corners. God, remember how we used to scare each other, jumping out of hidden stairwells, and telling preposterous ghost stories? But we had fun, didn't we?"
A whippoorwill caroled in the woods behind the house, its repeated, rolling trill sounding forsaken in the absolute stillness of the night. The high, lonesome whistle of a freight train sounded in the distance.
Memphis shivered, then tucked a blanket over Katie, who had kicked off her covers. She massaged her knee as the physical therapists had taught her, assuaging the pain until it was a dull ache, then lay back down, pulling the sheet up close to her chin.
"This is ridiculous, Memphis Maynard," she whispered. "Get a grip. Everything seems spooky because we arrived so late."
Somewhere in the house a telephone rang. She shot straight up again, finally located the lamp on the bedside table, and turned it on. The big face of the round tin windup clock showed midnight. Good Lord, who would be calling at this time of night, and where in God's name was the telephone? As she drew on her robe, she searched her mind, frantically trying to remember whether she'd seen a phone in any of the rooms.
The insistent ringing came from downstairs. Yes. These old houses usually had a dim cubbyhole between the dining room and the kitchen that held a small desk with a telephone. She remembered the light switch at the top of the stairs, hit it, and raced down the steps, robe flapping behind her.
Bingo! There it was, exactly where she'd imagined it. She snatched up the receiver.
"Good God, Margo, don't you know what time it is? It may be nine o'clock in Seattle, but it's midnight here."
"Oops, sorry, Mem. Tonight's Monday, our dark night, and I knew I wouldn't have a chance to call tomorrow. I can never get used to these time changes when we're touring in the West."
"How's the show going?"
"Great. Phantom is hard work, but a fun show to do. Your big sister got rave reviews. But, I called to see how you were, if you arrived safely and all that stuff."
"Sure, why wouldn't we?"
"Well, I know you're a tough cookie, or want everyone to think you are, but sometimes your sense of adventure combined with your generosity gets you in trouble."
"Oh, come now, Margo Maynard, who's usually rescuing whom in this sister act?"
"I will admit you've gotten me out of some scrapes, but I worry more about you now that you have Katie along."
"Katie's fine. We got in late, so instead of putting her into a strange bed in a strange house in the middle of the night, I put her in bed with me."
"Why did you get in so late?"
"I had car trouble and got delayed in Charleston for repairs, and then..."
She stopped short. It was just the sort of thing Margo was always telling her not to do. But what was life all about, if one didn't go the extra mile, if one didn't take a step into the unknown once in a while?
"What else? You didn't pick up any hitchhikers or anything like that, did you?"
"Well, I..." Damn, she knows me too well, Memphis thought.
"Well, yes I did. She was all by herself on this deserted road near one of the coal mines, and it was late. I felt sorry for her."
"Oh, God, Memphis. You're too trusting."
"Me, trusting? Not after what happened with Jake. Unfortunately, he trampled all over my 'trusting' nature, as you call it."
Silence hung for a moment as Margo realized she'd opened a sore subject. "Sorry, Mem."
"That's okay. Anyway, old habits die hard and I'm glad I picked her up, poor thing. I didn't notice until she climbed in the car that she was barefoot and had scratches all over her, like she'd been running through the woods or something."
Interested now, Margo asked, "Did she explain what she was doing on a deserted road late at night, or how she got there?"
"Didn't say one thing. Not even hello, good-bye, or thank you. She only stayed with me for about a mile. When she wanted out, she touched my arm, pointed, and smiled. I asked her if she was sure, because there was nothing around but the entrance to an old mine shaft off in the distance."
"And vat deed she say then, my pretty one?" asked Margo in her old storytelling wavery witch voice from childhood.
"She just nodded a yes, so I stopped and let her out. When I drove off and looked back in the rearview mirror, she'd already disappeared into the woods."
"Sounds weird to me."
"It was, kind of. But everything seems a little weird here. Probably bemuse of those ghastly scary tricks we used to play on each other in this house."
"You've always felt some odd link to Sadie, but it must have intensified. I know you're royally pissed at Jake for writing the book you want to write, or you would never have taken Katie down there to stay in that dreadful house. God, it was bad when we were little. How is the wretched old thing?"
"Seems fine. Paint's peeling off the ceiling and wallpaper is hanging in shreds here and there, but the bedrooms are clean and there's food in the refrigerator, just as Nelsey Kinzer promised. Someone placed arrangements of wildflowers around, too. Probably Nelsey Kinzer."
"Who's Nelsey Kinzer?"
"Nearest neighbor, and unofficial caretaker of our modest estate. Grandpa's trustees at the bank pay her a small sum to come in and clean once a month."
"How long since we've been there?"
"Twenty-three years, I think, the summer Alma died. Mom had the big row with Grandpa and never brought us back."
"We had some good times there, too, Mem. I remember picnics near a cabin, and someone telling ghost stories and old mountain tales."
"Yeah, I don't remember what she looks like, but I think Nelsey may have been the storyteller. Grandpa never let us mix much with anyone so we didn't get to know many people, but we did go swimming in a lake, and we went to revival meetings where everyone sang gospel songs loud and lively like they believed every word they sang."
"I think they did."
"That would be nice to think, wouldn't it?" Memphis yawned. "Gotta go, Margo. It's been a long day."
"Okay. Love you. Don't let those mountain folk be mean to you, and Mem, if you don't get the whole story straightened out, remember that it's not the end of the world."
"I know. I love you. Bye."
With Margo's words echoing in her ear, Memphis decided to think only of the good times here, not the bad. Her jaw tightened with determination.
Her whole life had been shaped by a search for adventure, a seeking of knowledge and better understanding of human nature. Photography had fulfilled much of her quest. It had led her to strange lands with beautiful scenery, and war-torn countries with sad stories. Here in her own country she'd retraced the lives of depression families chronicled originally by Margaret Bourke-White in the 1930s. The questions and answers she found in the eyes of others in their moments of despair or triumph had shaken her deeply. The seconds she'd pinned in time, held forever in the lens of her camera, exposed the commonality of everyone -- their joy or pain, their courage, their bewilderment about this thing called life. For Memphis herself, those photos held resolve and hope.
Underneath the determination to finally clear up the questions surrounding her grandmother's murder, Memphis realized that even here in Yancey her hope for answers for herself burned strong as ever. They had to do with a "coming home," for finding parts of herself that struggled to come forth, but never quite surfaced. They had to do with heart secrets, and soul secrets that she'd captured in the faces of others, in the stance of their bodies, or the plea of their hands, but had never identified in herself. And for some unfathomable reason, she'd always thought that Grandmother Sadie's story might hold answers for her.
Jake Bishop tilted his chair back, balancing on the rear legs, his feet latched around the desk legs in front of him. He pushed the warped green plastic eyeshade up on his head, making his blond hair stand on end. His old pals at the Associated Press ragged him about his eyeshade affectation, which aped the style of veteran reporters in the forties and fifties. Sake didn't care. The eyeshade was his good luck charm. He even wore it on the TV spots he did for American Notebook, and women seemed to adore it.
A pencil clenched between his teeth, he watched the printer spit out his work for tonight. When it was finished, he let the chair settle to the floor, grabbed the stack of papers, and read them.
Pleased with the results, he clicked off the computer and got up to pour himself a cup of coffee. His fourth that night.
"This should bring her running," he muttered to himself, as he reviewed his copy again.
He paced the small, nondescript hotel room, finally stopping to snap up the paper shade and look out the window at the town of Yancey. The hour was late. Only two cars traveled on the one-way street that circled the courthouse and the square.
"Kids cruising. Who else would be awake and moving in this hick burg except a teenager with some life in him?"
Popcorn spewed from the machine in the yellow-lit window of Murphy's Five & Ten on the corner. Someone had forgotten to mm off the automatic popper for the night.
Jake whistled between his teeth and smiled. "Gonna be a helluva lot of stale popcorn to eat tomorrow. Maybe they'll run a special on it."
He'd become accustomed to talking to himself. He hadn't made many friends in Yancey. In fact, he'd made a few enemies, but it didn't bother him. He was having the time of his life. Teasing and titillating the citizens of Yancey County and southern West Virginia had become a source of amusement.
What had started as a lark, a small project to fill time until another big story like Bosnia came along, had become the focal point in his life. It was no longer a lark. His book series about unsolved murders of the last one hundred years had become a huge success. He intended on playing this particular tale to its fullest, yanking the string until he loosened the knot at the end. His intense curiosity had been piqued, but the chance that Memphis might show motivated him even more than curiosity.
The possibility that the story might bring Memphis back to him hadn't entered his mind until he realized she couldn't avoid knowing about the success of his books. His television appearances on American Notebook reporting this third and newest subject, the murder of Sadie Maynard, would almost insure that Memphis would know about his forthcoming book. He knew her well enough to know it would anger her. Maybe enough to bring her to Yancey.
He hadn't finished the book, and he'd structured the 1936 murder as an ongoing five-minute spot on each week's show. It required that he spend more time in this backwater, dead-end place than he wanted to, but he was almost certain she would show sooner or later. Sooner, he hoped. He wanted her back in his life.
Across the street the blue and orange neon lights of the Rainbow Diner flashed on and off, then on and off again. Dewey Puckett, owner of the diner, was signaling Shine McCoy it was time to go home.
Jake watched as Shine picked himself up off the loafer's bench, brushed the coal dust off the seat of his baggy pants, and shuffled up the street. Other regulars on the bench had long since gone home to bed, either sobered-up enough to know it was past bedtime, or been discovered by a family member who had come and led them home by the ear. Shine drank until he passed out, then seemed surprised when he woke up around midnight to find himself alone. He lived by himself and had no family to care about him, so Dewey Puckett always let Shine know when it was time to go home.
"If I'd spent my life here, I'd drink myself into oblivion too, Shine old boy," muttered Jake.
Yancey was a rough, hardscrabble place, an abrasive remnant of its early coal-mining days. But beneath the gritty exterior of the citizens, there existed a genuine caring for one another. Even Jake, who had been given the cold shoulder, had witnessed the warmth of the community when they thought he wasn't watching. He wasn't fool enough to think they were going to open their hearts to him, but he knew the people in this town were fiercely protective of their own, no matter how ill or evil the person or deed.
Which brought to mind Yancey's own Huck Finn, Cutter Tate, bad boy turned grown-up successful businessman. Tate had killed a man and so had his grandfather, and both had gotten away with it. Trying to get information from the locals, though, was like pulling teeth with eyebrow tweezers.
Jake smiled. He hadn't needed them. He'd dug up everything essential through newspaper files, old deeds and records, eavesdropping, and by listening carefully to what people weren't saying, or by what they avoided saying when he interviewed them. There weren't many still living who could give him firsthand accounts of what happened all those years ago, but he'd found enough. Enough anyway to whet the appetite of his viewers. Jake Bishop had every middle-class housewife in America wondering who really murdered Sadie Maynard sixty years ago.
Cutter Tate had refused to talk to him. Well, Mr. High and Mighty Tate, you may not want to talk to me, but I've finished your grandfather's story and now maybe I can scare up the dirt on you. Cutter Tate was going to make great copy. He knew Tate had led an odd life here as a child and teenager. Though son and grandson of one of Yancey's wealthiest families, Tate had lived a hand-to-mouth existence, often fed by neighbors, or chased by irate homeowners.
Jake had disliked him on sight. He knew the dislike was irrational, but it was instinctive and he hadn't figured out why. Perhaps it was the man's big Scotch-Irish good looks. Typical of many of the descendants of the region's original settlers, Tate had a healthy complexion and a shock of unruly dark-brown hair. If he didn't like you, and he didn't like Jake, his mercury eyes cut through you like laser beams. Standing tall next to the Welsh descendants, who were stocky, dark, and built well for work in the coal mines, Cutter Tate looked like he could be king of the mountain.
Just the thought of the arrogant bastard made Jake crave a cigarette. He dug into his shirt pocket, and remembered too late that he'd quit three months ago. Jerking the window shade down again, he soothed the immediate nicotine urge by downing the rest of his cold coffee. Smoking irritated Memphis. He'd quit when he realized there might be a chance to get her back.
For a moment he took the luxury of remembering her slim body in his arms, her very satisfying supple satin breasts in his fondling hands. He closed his eyes and heard the small moan she gave when she was ready to climax. A tightness gathered in his loins. He groaned with frustration. Opening his eyes, he wished again that Memphis was here. They'd had some great times together in the Gulf War, in Bosnia, all over the world. He wondered where she was this moment, and willed her close to him.
He didn't have to wonder where Cutter Tate was on this autumn night. At the "club," of course, the Yancey County Country Club. Yancey was a tacky, blue-collar town, but it had its share of aristocracy and privileged citizens. It always had, and they stuck together like flies and flypaper.
That's how they had gotten away with murder sixty years ago.
Copyright © 1999 by Linda Kirchman Anderson
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This is one of the best mystery/suspence novels I have read in a long time. Linda Anderson keeps you in suspence all the way to the end! I enjoyed this book so much, I am currently looking for more of her work. This is a must read!