Mack Dalton has named plenty of murderers since she and her barstool detectives began cracking cold cases. But as a new year looms, time is ticking on the hunt for her craftiest villain yet . . .
As Milwaukee counts down to New Year’s Eve, bar owner Mackenzie “Mack” Dalton has but one resolution—unmask the dangerous mastermind who has been taunting her and killed bouncer Gary Gunderson. Mack and her fellow barflies have fleshed out a suspect and arranged an invite-only party to put a cork in the murderer’s game for good. But when the clock strikes midnight and their suspect is found cold and stiff on the basement stairs, it seems the celebration may have come too soon. Now Mack must rely on her special talents to find the real criminal among the crowd of revelers—or someone won’t survive until last call . . .
“The first book in the Mack’s Bar Mystery series is a hit!” —RT Book Reviews on Murder on the Rocks
“Murder with a Twist has a lot of sleuthing pleasure packed into its pages.” —Fresh Fiction
* Includes drink recipes *
About the Author
Allyson K. Abbott is the pseudonym of a mystery and thriller writer who also works as an emergency room nurse. She lives in a small Wisconsin town with her family and a menagerie of pets.
Read an Excerpt
Lots of people enjoy New Year's Eve as a chance to party, welcome in the coming year, and make resolutions they will never keep.
I've never made a New Year's resolution, and I can't remember ever partying on the holiday, either. I've always had to work because I own a bar, and bars are the places where a lot of people end up on New Year's Eve. One person who was celebrating the occasion at my bar this year would most certainly be unable to keep any resolutions made. It's hard to keep a promise to yourself when you're dead.
My name is Mack Dalton, and my bar is called, fittingly, Mack's Bar, although it was originally named after my father. My real name is Mackenzie, and I inherited the bar — as my father no doubt intended when he gave me my name — upon his death a year ago. He was murdered, and my efforts to solve that crime and another, related one that resulted in the death of the woman he had been dating, has led to a second career of sorts for me.
It wasn't only the murders that led me down this alternate career path. Another important contributing factor was the neurological disorder I've suffered from since birth, though perhaps suffer is too strong a word. It isn't painful or disfiguring, and while some of its effects might be considered disabling in away, it doesn't keep me from living a relatively normal life. The disorder is called synesthesia, and my case is an extremely rare and severe form of it. It causes one's senses to get mixed up or cross-wired so that any sense I experience — smell, for instance — is manifested through a second sense at the same time. For instance, I not only hear people's voices, I often taste them. Men's voices always come with a taste, though women's on occasion trigger a visual manifestation instead. Smells may be accompanied by a sound or sensation, and things I see are often accompanied by a smell or tactile sensation of some sort.
In addition to this mishmash of sensory experiences, my senses are also very ... well ... sensitive, for lack of a better term. I can see, smell, taste, feel, and hear things most people can't.
The disorder was a novelty when I was younger, one that set me aside from the other kids — and that wasn't a good thing. All I wanted was to fit in, to be perceived as normal, and it didn't take me long to figure out I was anything but. I learned, as do most kids who don't fit the narrow-minded definitions for acceptability used in childhood, to hide what made me different. And when I almost got locked away in a mental hospital for a spell during my teen years for what the doctors thought were hallucinations, I got even better at hiding my unique ability. That continued on into adulthood, until earlier this year when I met a Milwaukee detective by the name of Duncan Albright.
Duncan and I discovered how my synesthesia could help when it came to interpreting crime scenes, analyzing clues, or talking to witnesses and suspects. And after we solved a couple of crimes together, I began to feel like my synesthesia was finally making itself useful. It felt good to do something productive and helpful with it. Unfortunately, not everyone saw it the way Duncan and I did, and things got messy fast.
On this particular New Year's Eve, I was in my bar, my mind busily working at muffling and dismissing all the secondary sensory experiences I was having as a result of the many sounds, sights, and smells associated with the celebration. Bars in Wisconsin are allowed to stay open all night on New Year's Eve, and in the past Mack's Bar has done just that. But this year I decided to do something different. At ten o'clock in the evening, I closed the bar to the public and had a private party for my staff, close friends, and a few select customers who belonged to a group called the Capone Club, a gathering of interested parties who helped me solve crimes. I also invited a few people who were suspects in a deadly scheme that I hoped to put an end to. It definitely wasn't your typical party crowd.
My decision to shut my doors stemmed from several things. For one, I wanted to thank most of the invitees to this private party for their unwavering support of me. I also wanted to minimize my exposure to all the typical noise and revelry that accompanies a busy bar on New Year's Eve, because it's a nightmare for me with my synesthesia. And the final reason was that this year I did have a resolution I wanted to make, and I was going to need the help of my crime-solving friends to accomplish it.
This year, my resolution was to catch and expose the person who had been tormenting me for weeks with taunting letters that had taken me citywide on several scavenger hunts. The person, or persons — I had reason to think I was dealing with a twisted, murderous twosome — had already killed two people I knew well: Lewis Carmichael, a regular customer of mine who had also been a member of the Capone Club, and Gary Gunderson, one of my employees. Threats of more deaths — mine included — had been a standard part of this perverse game. I was tired of it and determined to put an end to it. To me, this seemed to be as good a New Year's resolution as anything else I could come up with.
I suppose resolutions aren't supposed to be easy to accomplish, and this one certainly aligned with that rule. To start with, while I had a good idea who the primary letter writer was, I had no idea who the second person might be. And to add to the challenge, there was an excellent chance that it was someone I knew, one of my friends, regular customers, or employees.
It wasn't part of my original agenda to have things come to a head the way they did on New Year's Eve, but fate and circumstance came together and laughed at my silly plan, implementing one of their own. One minute I was preparing to raise a glass in a toast to the coming year along with my invited guests, and the next I was standing at the head of the stairs leading to the basement area of my bar, staring down at a dead body. Having someone die in the bar was unnerving enough by itself, particularly since this was the third death that had occurred in or near my bar in the past year, none of them from natural causes. But the identity of this particular victim sent chills down my spine and threw a wrench into the works of my plan the likes of which I could have never anticipated.
Midnight on New Year's Eve is often marked by people shouting, fireworks, and an assortment of noisemakers ... a general clamor of sound. But on this particular New Year's Eve, it was marked by something different: a bloodcurdling scream.
In order to understand how things got scary and crazy unpredictably fast, I need to backtrack a little. It all began a few weeks before the fateful New Year's Eve party, in the early part of December. On the heels of my crime-solving activities with Duncan, there had been a lot of press coverage about me. This didn't sit well with Duncan's bosses, and as a result, he was suspended and ordered not to associate with me. This might not have been a huge issue but for two things. One, I had invited Duncan into my bed as well as into my life by then, and we were in the process of exploring the potential behind our relationship. Letting go of that wasn't easy.
And two, I had discovered I liked this crime-solving stuff. I relished the chance to do something good with my synesthesia. It had been an albatross around my neck for most of my life — sometimes almost literally so. Whenever I grew nervous about exposing it, or revealing it to someone for the first time, it triggered an uncomfortable strangling sensation around my throat. When Duncan came into my life and gave my quirk a valuable use, my synesthesia started to feel more like a superpower, a strength I could be proud of and no longer needed to hide. That feeling was strangely intoxicating.
Duncan and I stayed apart during the three weeks he was suspended, waiting to see if he would lose his job. When he returned to work, we returned to our relationship, but we kept it under wraps, sneaking around like a couple of love-struck, underage teenagers. The Capone Club enabled me to continue my crime-solving activities without Duncan's help — at least no help anyone knew about other than a few, trusted members — and we probably could have gone on that way for a long time, waiting out everyone's interest in me and my involvement with the police, Duncan in particular.
But I had drawn the attention of someone else, someone other than the press and the police bigwigs. This someone was waging a letter-writing campaign of fear and terror against me, and setting deadlines that, if missed, would result in the death of someone close to me. Lewis Carmichael had been murdered before I got the first letter as proof of how serious the writer was. And when I missed a deadline recently because I misinterpreted the clues in one of the letters, my bouncer/bartender Gary Gunderson had been killed. His death was particularly bitter for me, not only because I felt responsible for it, but because Gary had once put his own life on the line to save mine.
Along with the deadlines imposed by the letters, there was another caveat: I was not to involve the police — particularly Duncan, who was mentioned by name — in the solving of the letters' clues. The only thing I was supposed to use was what one reporter referred to as my "special senses." That meant no use of modern-day forensics or police investigative techniques. Duncan and I found a way around that, too, by meeting on the sly and setting up a friend of Duncan's who also happened to be a cop working an undercover assignment as my new beau. Malachi "Mal" O'Reilly came from a construction company family, which made him the perfect candidate for infiltrating a local construction company suspected of bribery, shoddy work, and other offenses. His work hours also made him the perfect candidate for assisting me in some of my investigative efforts as I strove to solve the puzzles in each of the letters. The fact that he was a cop was initially known to only three other people in the bar besides me: Cora Kingsley, a forty-something, single, redheaded, man-eater who owned her own IT company, and the Signoriello brothers, Joe and Frank, two retired insurance salesmen in their seventies whom I have known all my life. These three people were also the closest thing I had to family now that my father was gone.
Duncan's clever idea to use Mal would have been great except for one small glitch. I found myself genuinely attracted to the man, an attraction that proved mutual. We had yet to act on it, but my mind and my heart were a muddled mess.
On the day after Christmas, Mal and I set out to follow up on the latest clues about the letter writer, which had included beer-soaked paper and a small key that one might use for a diary or a jewelry box. Written at the top of the key in nearly invisible clear nail polish was a pound or number sign, followed by the numeral 1.
It took us a while to figure out the meaning behind this clue, but we eventually decided it had something to do with Pabst beer. Since Pabst was no longer brewed in Milwaukee — though rumors were circulating that they might return — the only significant landmarks I could identify were the historic Pabst Mansion, the home commissioned by Captain Frederick Pabst in 1890, and the Pabst Theater. Since the time deadlines in previous letters had been closing times for the venues where we found the clues, we made the assumption that the same thing held true with this particular letter. Based on that, we focused our attention on the Pabst Mansion. The structure sits on what was once a small, bucolic hillside but is now in the heart of downtown Milwaukee, surrounded by commercial buildings and the Marquette University campus. Guided tours of the house are given throughout the year, but for a couple of weeks around Christmastime, the public is allowed in for self-guided, albeit supervised, tours to see a renowned and extravagant display of decorations.
Duncan had originally collected the key that had come with the letter and taken it with him to have it examined for any evidence we might have missed. He had someone in the police lab who was willing to run things for him off the books, and he told this person that his sister was being stalked and he was trying to find out who it might be. But on Christmas Day, he joined me and a few trusted others — Cora, the Signoriello brothers, Mal, and Cora's current paramour, Tiny — for a private celebration. It was during our afternoon dinner that I figured out the meaning behind the letter, and Duncan returned the key to me at that time, informing me that no other evidence had been found on it.
I opened up the bar later on Christmas, and Duncan hid away in my apartment for the duration of the evening and into the night, allowing us to share some rare but treasured time together. But in order to avoid detection in case anyone might be watching, he had slipped away in the wee hours. I awoke the next morning with his side of the bed empty and a note by my coffee machine that he'd call me later.
After showering, dressing, and grabbing a quick bite to eat, I'd headed downstairs to help my oncoming staff get the bar open by eleven. Mal had shown up shortly after I opened the doors — an arrangement we had made the day before — and the two of us headed out shortly thereafter.
So it was that I, armed with my tiny key and with Mal at my side, approached the Pabst Mansion just before noon on the day after Christmas. We purchased two tickets and began our tour at the stately front entrance. Given the size of the place, and the fact that I had no idea exactly what I was supposed to be looking for, I figured it could take us a couple of hours to go through it unless we got lucky early on. Complicating things was the cast I had on my left leg and the crutches I had to use to get around. I'd had a car accident on my way to the Public Market — the destination indicated by clues in the letter I had misinterpreted. That accident had broken bones in my leg and cost Gary Gunderson his life.
We entered the mansion through its massive front door and found ourselves in a huge foyer complete with its own fireplace and an old-fashioned bell service center for calling servants.
"Fascinating architecture," Mal observed, studying the intricate wood carvings in the foyer and the painted coves in the adjoining dining and music rooms.
"The architecture might be at its finest, but the décor is ostentatious," I said.
Mal shrugged. "That's the way they did things back then. If you had money, you flaunted it. And at the time, this sort of intricately carved woodwork, along with richly painted ceilings and walls, were a sign of wealth."
The house, despite its overly ornate décor, was a beautiful specimen. There were hand-carved moldings and trim in every square inch of the place, and each room had its own theme and individual architecture. The doors separating the rooms were giant slabs of wood hung with humongous hinges, and each side of them sported a different carved design to match the décor of the room it was in once the door was closed.
I managed well enough for a while, enjoying the details and historical anecdotes provided by the various guides positioned throughout the place, and observing the painstaking restorations being done by the historical preservation group that had saved the mansion from destruction in 1978. It was fortunate that the home had been bought and used as a residence for the archbishop by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. For sixty-seven years after the Pabst family moved out, it served as home to a host of archbishops, priests, and nuns, who left most of the original details in place, though they painted over much of the décor. Removal of that paint allowed the original details to be revealed in all their original, ostentatious glory, everything from hand-painted ceiling designs to silk wall coverings. It was a slow, arduous process that was still ongoing, and I imagined the restorers must have experienced a thrill each time they exposed some of the underlying treasures.
Excerpted from "A Toast to Murder"
Copyright © 2017 Beth Amos.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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