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About the Author
Author of the award-winning thriller, Pages in the Wind, Sally Saylor De Smet lives in San Diego, California. The daughter of a Naval officer, she was the shy kid who stayed in her room a lot, channeling her sensitivity into stories and art. Her writing explores emotions through intrigue and mystery. Her storytelling skills have been recognized by the psychiatric community and educators for blending fiction and psychology into a compelling narrative.
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The Old Mill Cemetery
Dead branches snapped beneath my feet as I dodged the slippery moss under the crepe myrtle trees. A tropical storm had left the Old Mill Cemetery, on the south side of Atlanta, riddled with sinkholes and vine-choked ravines. "Oh, geez," I mumbled. "I would have to wear leather huaraches in the rain."
The ground was littered with charred bricks, decayed walls, and warped air vents from the abandoned cotton mill. Hazard signs were everywhere. Of course, the crumbling buildings were catnip for graffiti artists, so most of the notices had been covered with vibrant colors or knocked to the ground. I stopped to admire the Spanish moss draped between the old oaks and rusty looms. It was the most breathtaking resting place I could ever imagine.
Every month, I came here to visit the man I killed nine years ago — my best friend and brother-in-law, Glen Lloyd Hastings. His grave could be found at the fourteenth tree from the wrought iron gate and three rows up from the Blessed Virgin Mary statue. I could locate his marker with my eyes closed, but still I counted. Old habit, I reckoned. At forty years old, my life was more predictable and regimented than folks twice my age. I made the sign of the cross and collapsed my dark blue umbrella.
"Hi, Glen," I said, pulling up the hood on my red parka. "I brought gladiolus this time. The florist said they stand for honor." I pushed the button on my Walkman. "And Prince. He's amazing, don't you think? You'll love this song. It's called 'When Doves Cry.' It's so beautiful I put it on repeat for hours at a time."
I closed my eyes, listening to the vocals harmonize with the faint melody of rain tapping the magnolias.
"Anyway," I said, turning down the volume. "I'm on my way to pick up Adam. Your son is growing. I kid you not, he must be five feet tall. And smart! He's already learning algebra. Stacey asked me to have him home by six, so I'll be seeing her soon. Your wife misses you terribly, Glen, I know she does."
The thistles growing over his headstone had propagated with the rainfall. "Wouldn't you know it?" I asked, pulling a plastic bag from my purse. "Forgot my gloves again." I shook my head. "Spiny little monsters. Weeds make annoying neighbors, don't they?"
After tidying up, I brushed my hands together and sat with my legs crossed, looking around the grounds. The cemetery gave me a feeling of serenity, almost like I belonged there. The thought used to frighten me, like my death might be imminent, but after a while it comforted me. In the breathless darkness were sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers who had laughed and cried and then died. The gloomy truth depressed me at first, but walking among the departed made me realize a somber reality. All who breathe share the same destiny.
A beam shot through the cemetery, followed by thunder. "Wow ... three seconds, a close one. Little too close. I best fetch Adam from the dentist before the storm worsens. Next time I'll come earlier so we can spend more time together."
As I picked clumps of mud from my trousers, I thought about the day Glen died. It was Valentine's Day in 1974. I was on my way to conduct my first meeting as editor of a publishing company when my car broke down. There I was, wearing a red jersey wrap dress and holding a navy briefcase I'd spent two paychecks to buy, staring at smoke spitting from my hood. I ran two blocks in platform shoes to a phone booth to call Glen for a ride. He agreed, but then Stacey got on the phone, shouting, "My husband has an ear infection! He's dizzy!"
I chimed in with, "Calm down, sis. He'll be back in forty minutes." On the way home, he had a seizure, plunged off a fifty-foot overpass, and died.
I hated walking away. Always did. At times, my visits felt like an endless pursuit of melancholy. But I came to mourn and left to live. Grief swallowed me when Glen died. I no longer sprinted through life, but wandered, going about my duties and trying not to make any more mistakes. The graveyard coaxed me out of my crawl space. It was an unlikely advocate, but somewhere in the timeless space, I found wisdom and grace. My quiet time with Glen and the other souls soothed my worried mind and eased my guilt over his death, just a little.
I lingered to watch. The lavender flowers I'd brought drooped under the weight of the rain, thrashing like the proud sails of a battered vessel. A chestnut starling swooped down and perched on a crumbling tombstone while northern yellow bats hovered around the pine trees. The evening brought more to see. It seemed a shame to leave now.
But I was stalling. The splendor of the Old Mill Cemetery would not make my next stop any easier. "Get it over with," I mumbled. "Just go, Kate." It was unavoidable.CHAPTER 2
It seemed like hours since I had arrived at my sister's house, when in fact it had only been ten minutes. Ten long minutes. I rubbed my feet together, trying to warm my toes. Stacey insisted I leave my wet boots on her porch. Cemetery shoes, she had called them. She had me peel them off, the knee-high stockings too, and hide them behind a pot of geraniums. "You can get your graveyard boots when you leave," she had said, slowly shaking her head.
I hated going to my sister's house. Not just dislike, but overwhelming discomfort and dread. You can't come back from killing your sister's husband. If she had been an acquaintance, we would have never talked or seen each other again. But we're family, so it never ends. A relentless bleed tied off with a tourniquet to stay alive, but preserve the agony.
"How about some wine?" Stacey called out from the kitchen.
From my position on the sofa, I watched her pop the cork. "Stace, do you suppose Adam might want to come along with me the next time I visit Glen?"
She sauntered into the living room carrying two glasses of white wine. "Honestly, Kate. You and that damn cemetery. Sometimes I wonder if you've watched too many Hitchcock movies." She handed me a goblet and tossed her long blonde hair. "We've been through this before. It would only confuse the boy. Plus, I don't want to upset my husband."
"How so? Glen was his father, and I'm sure —"
She interrupted with a loud huff. "Enough already. It's not like Glen will know he's there. Frank's his dad now. What do you think of the Chardonnay? I got it at Village Spirits on Lafayette. I swear you'd think you were on a boulevard in Paris."
I took my first sip. "Not to change the subject, right?"
She swirled her wine and chuckled. "Oh, Kate. You can't possibly know what's good for a child because you're not a mother. Now, hold on, will you? I have to make sure dinner is still simmering. A boiled dish will end up cloudy."
The quartz clock struck seven times as I synced my wristwatch. "Thirty more minutes," I said under my breath. I set the alarm to vibrate at exactly seven-thirty. "Surely, I can get through a mere ..." I checked my old Timex. "Twenty-nine minutes."
"You say something, Kate?"
"No, just going over work stuff in my head." My mind drifted back to my visit to the cemetery and problems at work. My position as senior editor of Brentwood Publishing was in jeopardy. What other reason would my boss have to transfer me to craft and cookbooks?
Stacey walked back into the room. "By the way, have you seen Gloria Vanderbilt's new line of jeans? Did you know she dated Howard Hughes? She should have nabbed that fella. Talk about money!"
"The woman's an heiress, she has plenty of her own," I replied, sipping my wine. "Cutejeans?"
Lindsey, my seven-year-old niece, skipped into the room. The red-haired, freckle-faced girl always made a lively entrance. She stood next to my chair, jumping in place. "Aunt Katie! Aunt Katie! Can I ask you a question?"
"Just a minute, honey," I whispered. "Your mommy is talking."
"Gloria knows how to flaunt a girl's figure. They're cut tight, and I'm talking skin tight. Men love it when women wear clothes to show off their body. If they have the goods, of course."
Lindsey tugged at my sleeve. "Aunt Katie! Can I ask you a question?"
I turned to her and widened my eyes. "Goodness gracious! This must be a very important question! What is it, sweetie?"
"How come you never got married?"
My mouth fell open. "What?"
"How come you never got married?"
My sister jumped in. "Now, Lindsey. Aunt Katie just never found the right man. Run along so Aunt Katie and I can visit."
I twisted the beads on my red drop earrings, wondering why she said never instead of hasn't. At forty, was I already labeled a spinster?
"Sorry. Kids, you know. What a day! Swear to God. I need a nanny. Lindsey dawdled with her classmates and missed the bus. Thank heavens you picked up Adam at the dentist. I barely had time for thirty minutes at the gym."
"Bummer," I mumbled, watching Lindsey run back to the den.
She freed her long hair from a yellow scrunchy. "So, how's work?"
"Hmm? Oh, terrible. My new boss stuck me with cookbooks and —"
"Maybe you'll finally learn to cook." She glanced at her sports watch. "Holy crap! It's after six! Can you keep an eye on the kids while I freshen up? Don't want to look grody when my husband comes home."
"Sure, go ahead." I leaned back on the overstuffed floral couch, pursed my lips, and exhaled. The frenzied roar of kids was giving me a headache. The How come you never got married? hadn't helped.
My brother-in-law, Frank, walked in toting a Pierre Cardin briefcase. Frank was a buttoned-up fellow with gray eyes, horn-rimmed glasses, ashtray-brown hair, average height, and a slim physique. His only unusual feature was his new mullet hairstyle. When they saw Rod Stewart in concert, Stacey gushed over the rock star's hair. He started growing out his flat-top the next day. The poor man would dye his hair purple to please mysister.
My niece and nephew ran to the entry. "Daddy! Daddy!"
"Guess what?" asked Lindsey. "I won three tetherball games today!"
"Fantastic, princess! What about you, Adam? How'd your appointment go?"
Ten-year-old Adam, with his curly dark hair and green eyes, looked just like Glen. "Okay," he answered, rubbing his jaw. "My mouth is numb."
"Give it an hour, son." He glanced up and acknowledged me. "Run along now so I can visit with your Aunt Katie." They ran off shouting about Who's the Boss.
"Hi, Frank. Stacey's upstairs. She'll be down soon."
He loosened his tie and plopped in a recliner. "What brings you by?"
"I picked Adam up from his dental appointment."
"Much obliged. How's the newspaper?"
"Actually, Brentwood is a publishing house. My —"
"The Falcons play the Lions today," he said, snatching the remote from the end table. "I got twenty bucks on a pool at work. Let's see who's winning."
I bit my lower lip, peering upstairs. "Well, I should be going soon."
My sister barreled down the staircase in a white crop top and hot-pink shorts. Her blonde hair touched her shoulders in silky curls, and she'd added fuchsia lipstick along with mascara for her saucer blue eyes. At five-foot-two, she had a toned body, enormous breasts, and milky skin. Her face, at thirty-seven, was unlined and girlish, with delicate features and a spray of freckles across her rounded nose. Frank, even after seven years of marriage, ogled her like a pole dancer whenever she walked into a room.
She sat on his lap. "How was work, honey?"
He wrapped his arms around her waist. "Nabbed a few deals and had a meeting at the regional office to go over the best sellers for 1984."
"My handsome money-maker. So, who won?"
"It's not a contest, doll. The Escort and LTD came out on top. Can't beat a Ford," he muttered, nibbling on her earlobe.
She squirmed and giggled. "Frankie! Stop!"
My watch vibrated against my wrist. "Okay, guys. Time to go."
She stood up, tugging on her shorts. "Aw, don't go. You just got here. Can't you stay for dinner? Julia Child was on Donahue yesterday, and I tried out a new recipe, coq au vin. Years ago, it was a poor man's meal cooked with a rooster. Can you imagine? She used chicken and added mushrooms and onions. Now it's so French."
"Thanks, but I should get home. Ma's leg spasms have been keeping her up at night. The meds for her MS don't seem to be working. Besides, she's making gumbo," I replied, adjusting the strap on my shoulder bag. "I wouldn't want her to eat alone."
"Yuck! I can't believe she still makes that crap! You can hardly compare gumbo with coq au vin!" She shrugged. "Fine, I'll fetch your shoes. Say hi to Mom for me."
"Will do," I said, giving her a quick embrace. "Take care, Frank. Hope you win the pool."
I sat in my red Toyota Camry, staring at the yellow home. The house was part of an experimental suburb called Bridlewood, built a few years ago on the outskirts of Atlanta. Old railroad homes were bulldozed to construct semi-mansions for the thirty-something crowd who couldn't afford the established upscale suburbs. Buyers didn't mind paying top-dollar for a tract house on a narrow lot as long as it had at least four thousand square feet. Stacey's two-story colonial home had Roman columns, arched windows, and carved double-doors. At the entrance stood a clay dog holding a "Welcome to the Keller Castle" sign.
As usual, I left with a hollow sensation in the pit of my stomach — half unease and half guilt for feeling that way. It didn't help that my niece asked why I had never married. I told myself the commute to downtown Atlanta, a full-time job, and taking care of my mother gave me little time to find a mate. I took a sharp breath and pressed the gas pedal.
I pulled into the driveway of our bungalow in Hawthorn. The neighborhood was situated near a rolling mill built in the mid-1800's to straighten railroad tracks damaged during the Civil War. The simple bungalows had shingle siding, gable roofs, and front porches. The sidewalks were cracked and raised by tree roots, but no one would think of cutting down the old Sweetgum trees. On most nights, folks gathered on their porches to talk politics and swap family recipes.
"Ma, I'm home!" I called out, dropping my keys on the side table. The house smelled like roux, onions, and garlic.
My mother wheeled out. "Katherine! I was starting to worry, dear. Come along, the gumbo's been simmering all day, and the table is set. How was your visit with your sister?"
"Fine. Stopped at the cemetery and then picked up Adam," I said, shaking off my jacket. "You look a little flushed. Are you overdoing it? Gumbo is a lot of work."
"Don't be silly. It's healthy for me to get some exercise. Besides, my hands are much better."
Her hands were racked with tremors, but the gleam in her sky-blue eyes erased her disability. An elegant woman of seventy-two, she never let her condition define her. When she lost the dexterity in her hands, she grew out her strawberry-blonde and gray hair so she could casually shape it into a bun. "How was your day?"
"Wonderful, dear. The neighbor stopped by and talked about a new Bible study at the Baptist church. She invited me to join the group on Tuesday nights."
"But you're Catholic."
"The Baptists let us Irish Catholics in now. Guess they figured God doesn't play favorites. Plus, Pastor Kostka's father was born in Wadowice, Poland. Same as Pope John Paul. Tell me. How was work today?"
"Dreadful. It seems like years since Fred Brentwood sold the company. The new owner knows nothing about publishing. The way he runs the business, the doors will close within a year."
"Mercy. It's that bad?"
"Worse. He fired most of the staff and hired interns. He only kept me because of my contract. He gives the newbies fiction and sticks me with craft and cookbooks. We were supposed to have a meeting today, but he sent out a memo instead. Lost my chance to persuade him to put me back on fiction."
"I'm sure he aims to. In the meantime, those cookbooks will be well-served by your editorial skills."
"It would help if I learned to cook."
"You have an important job, so don't fret about it. So, how were my grandkids today?"
"Happy. Oh, Lindsey asked why I never got married."
Ma set down her spoon. "Aw, she's too young to understand. Young'uns have no perception of time. You gave up so much leaving New Hampshire when your father had a heart attack. That scholarship to Dartmouth meant so much to you."
"Emory was a great college. I couldn't have asked for a better education."
"You sacrificed a lot to take care of me, honey. If this job goes sideways, I want you to go to New York City and work for one of those big publishing houses like you planned before I got sick."
"No, Ma. I love living here. As for marriage, maybe my time has come and gone."
"Sugar," she said, touching my hand. "That's not true. Someone will snatch you up soon enough. You got your daddy's big brown eyes and your grandma's gift for writing, rest their souls. You're a beautiful girl. Of course, they have to pass my inspection first. Nothing but the best for my Katherine."
It was flattering to be called a girl at forty. As for the beautiful part, I was no Stacey. My face wore the signs of too much reading: I had fine lines between my eyebrows and the beginnings of crow's feet. My dark hair touched my shoulders with a touch of gray at the temple. At least I got Ma's high cheekbones, full lips, and a slender, five-foot-nine frame. My father always called Stacey "the beauty" and me "the athlete." Odd though, when I could barely manage twenty push-ups and was always on the tail-end of a one-mile run.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Brooklyn Bitters"
Copyright © 2019 Sally Saylor De Smet.
Excerpted by permission of BookBaby.
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.
Table of Contents
1. The Old Mill Cemetery,
2. The Question,
3. New York City,
5. Out of the Clouds,
6. Nice and Easy,
7. Sound of Uncertainty,
8. Sweet Potato Pie,
11. A Dreaded Month,
13. Resolutions and Yachts,
18. Love at Last,
20. Dinner Party,
23. Six Hours,
25. Higher Ground,
26. Strange Reunion,
28. Dirty Secrets,
29. Unlikely Invitation,
30. Fake Robins,
31. Competing Forces,
32. Rules and Protocol,
33. The Sins of the Sister,
34. Opposing Calls,
37. Two Times,
39. Blood Bond,
40. The Agreement,