Emily Kincaid Mystery:
About the Author
Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli (Michigan) is a writing instructor at Northwestern Michigan College. She is the author of novels, short stories, articles, and essays. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies. Buzzelli is a member of the Mystery Writers of America.
Read an Excerpt
DEAD FLOATING LOVERSAn Emily Kincaid Mystery
By Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli
Midnight InkCopyright © 2009 Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEight thirty a.m. on a pretty May Michigan morning that should have stayed pretty and pristine and quiet. Far too early for a visitor, especially Deputy Dolly Wakowski, who stood on my small side porch thumping with both fists at the screen door, bawling my name like a little kid calling me out to play: "Emily! Emily Kincaid! Damn you, I know you're in there ..."
What I didn't need at my door that early, or any time for that matter, was my officious, fully uniformed, square-bodied, thirty-three-year-old almost ex-friend, Deputy Dolly, of the Leetsville Police Department. There was no way I was going to let her in. The last time she came to see me she'd been furious about a book I'd written, didn't like the way I portrayed her, and left in a huff, with a big slam of my screen door.
Let her stand and wait. I pressed harder against the wall, making myself invisible while rolling my eyes at Sorrow, my big, ugly, unspecific dog, who did a noisy, tongue-lolling dance of joy at the very idea of having company. It didn't matter if that guest was Dolly, a Jehovah's Witness, or an ax murderer. Sorrow was a nondiscriminating creature that loved the world at large and didn't give a flying fig if I'd spent all of the last evening drinking myself into a kind of squiggly fog that left me with a pounding wine-headache, a mouth tasting like dandelion fuzz, and a penchant for growling at any overt noise.
Dolly hammered again, setting my house to quivering and leaky-jowled Sorrow to barking and leaping. I could feel the reverberations inside my poor, abraded skull.
Last evening hadn't been the best of my life. I'd gotten another snide rejection on my recent manuscript. Yet another of those "this didn't excite me" letters that I took personally, as all writing teachers admonish writers not to do. But it was my own story, and Deputy Dolly's. The literary agents had it in for me, I had decided. I now was known in all of New York as the "unexciter." I was the joke of every literary cocktail party. The "poor deluded Michigan writer" referred to at writers' conferences; my name followed by an embarrassed laugh.
Maybe I wasn't really that important, but anyway I'd downed a lot of cheap Pinot Grigio after setting fire to the rejection letter. I'm not one to paper walls with rejections nor get them inscribed on toilet paper. Such weak revenge. Instead, I had sat out on my dock watching ducks fight in angry silhouettes against the fading light on Willow Lake, my own little northern Michigan lake surrounded by weeping willows. The lake was also home to a family of loons I'd fallen in love with, and a beaver who, over my three years up here, had become my tree-chewing, tail-smacking nemesis. I had swatted spring mosquitoes the size of chickens and made a game of seeing how far I could flick them off my arm. In between these important businesses, I had plotted large events of splendid vengeance on all of New York, where I swanned prettily into a party given for my new best seller. The agents who'd scorned me were all there, begging me to come to them, tears of remorse filling the room.
By nine p.m., before true northern spring dark, I had depressed myself sufficiently and gone in to bed with the dregs of the Pinot Grigio and a lot of self-pity.
Now Dolly was at my door. The last time I'd seen her she had come to tell me I better not try selling that book about her. Since it wasn't about her-exactly-and I thought I did her justice, and I was certainly damn well going to try to sell it, we had mumbled and strutted at each other and she'd left in a mighty huff.
For a few minutes all was quiet. Maybe she was gone, I hoped. I lifted the corner of my gauzy white curtain and peeked out the door window. Still there, four-square with both hands hooked in her gun belt, shiny gold badge stuck on her powder-pigeon-blue breast. She looked absently off toward my spring garden of bright yellow daffodils and pale blue windflowers. The side of her face I could see had its usual intent and unappreciative stare. "I don't get flowers," she'd once said to me as I had proudly showed off my neat bed of pink peonies. "Plastic's better. Don't die."
She knew I was home. My Jeep was parked in the drive. She might figure I went out walking around Willow Lake; or maybe visiting my friend Crazy Harry across Willow Lake Road, getting him to come take out a wasps' nest or cut up a fallen tree. In either case, she'd sit in her car and wait, not just until hell froze over, but until whatever time it took for me to drag my body home.
Or I could be in my writing studio under the tall maples behind the house, but she had probably checked already. No escaping her. I opened the door.
"God, Emily!" she greeted me, small, homely face tied in a knot. "I thought you were dead." Her voice had a hurt, demanding quality to it; a kind of angry mother tone that got me way down inside, maybe because it had been a long time since anyone-younger or older-had said my name like that.
She threw both her hands in the air, reached for the screen door handle, pulled it open, and came on in, half knocking me out of the way and stepping on Sorrow's big, hairy front paw. "I'm not here because I'm mad about the book anymore. You write whatever you want to, you hear? I don't give a rat's behind about any of that stuff. You probably won't sell it anyway. Never have. I'm over that. Something else. I need your help and you're my friend. You've gotta come with me ..."
I didn't get a chance to say hello or even sort out her words. This wasn't the usual Dolly voice. She never asked nicely for anything. This was a mix of pleading and demanding. A dubious face. Fast batting eyes. Evidently asking favors didn't come easily to Dolly. I was thrown, and stood looking at her with my mouth half open.
Sorrow recovered from the foot stomp and leaped to hold Dolly in place, big black-and-white paws placed strategically on both of her ample breasts. Dolly nuzzled his long, wet nose then pushed him away. She leaned close to me, taking in the circles under my eyes that probably made my long face look like a mask. She checked out my curly blond hair caught in a messy ponytail, my paint- and soil-marred jeans, and the new University of Michigan tee shirt that was a gift from Jackson Rinaldi, my ex-husband, whose obsessive philandering had ended our marriage, though we had stayed friends. Well, sort of.
"Emily, I swear to God, something awful's happened. I don't know what to do, where to turn. I'm gonna do something illegal. I got to. And I need you as a witness. Just to say why I did it, if it comes to that."
A shudder passed through me. I could smell trouble coming. Dolly attracted it and I would get the fallout again. My day was all planned. Today was for going over my checkbook and figuring out how many months I had left of food money, while still paying my bills. Summer taxes would be coming in August. I had to prepare. Today was for calling editors I knew at northern Michigan magazines and pitching articles. Maybe calling my friend, Bill Corcoran, at the Traverse City Northern Statesman, to see if I could get more stringer work. Something had to be done about my pathetic bank account. The money my father left me was going fast. I'd come up here from Ann Arbor, after the divorce, with what I considered a good stake, certain I would soon sell a novel that would bring a million. I figured that at thirty-four all it would take was one best seller to set me up for life. What editor could resist such quality? Such amazing intelligence? Such creative spirit?
Seemed everybody could.
Dolly leaned in close to get a good look at me. She sniffed and shook her head. "Damn, Emily. You're not drinking, are you? Out here all alone? Taking to drink will be the end of you, like old Cornelia Pund, over to Mancelona. Nothing in her garbage can but cheap whiskey bottles. Garth got tired of picking up those whiskey bottles every week and called social services. Told 'em about her. A guy came out and she pulled a gun. Shot him in the arm. Now she's sober as a monk, staying down near Detroit in a women's prison. Habitual offender. So, you see? Drinking's not going to get you anywhere you ..."
"Let's stick with what's going on here," I interrupted the diatribe. "I can't imagine you doing anything illegal." I ignored the sermon I'd just gotten. "You go into spasms when you forget to put on your turn signal."
She lifted her chin from the V of her blue uniform shirt to give me a long, hard look. Those faded blue eyes had never registered neediness before. There might even have been a tear there, if stones can be said to cry. "Have to."
"Maybe tomorrow ..." I shuffled into the living room and sat heavily on my brown sofa, bare feet up on the oak coffee table with one long crack running across it. My dad made the table in his woodshop behind the Grand Blanc house where I grew up and where my mom died when I was twelve, and where we lived until I went off to college at U of M. Last piece he ever made before dying. I didn't care if it had a crack across it. It was part of me.
"Now! You've got to come see. You'll be out there anyway, soon as the state cops get their hands on it. You'll want to write the story. Please. Truly, Emily, I never asked anybody for this kind of help before."
She wasn't kidding. Her right eye drifted off, leaving the left to stare at me with seriousness drained of any anger or quarrel. I'd never noticed before that Dolly had a lazy eye, or maybe it was brought on by stress. The look was odd, unsettling, until her right eye wandered back and I got my mind on what she was saying.
"What's going on?"
She shook her head. "Can't. You gotta come. Means everything to me. My family ..."
"Family? You don't have any, Dolly."
"'Course I've got family. I don't tell everybody ..."
"Where are we going?"
"Out to Sandy Lake."
"Nobody there but kids having campfires and making out."
"Mushroomers came on it. You'll see. But you gotta hurry." She stopped to cough and twist her neck nervously from one side to the other. "I was supposed to call in the state boys and I didn't call nobody."
I groaned. "You're not here to get me to witness some gigantic mushroom, are you?"
"Don't be dumb. I'm asking you as a friend."
I started to say something about the editors I had to call, about Crazy Harry maybe coming to rototill my new garden, but her face stopped me. I might have been hung over, but I wasn't heartless.
I ran back to my bedroom and found a purple cotton sweater and some passably clean jeans. In the bathroom, I peed, then brushed my hair out to a wild, blond halo. I was going to put on some lipstick but Dolly stood outside the door hollering for me to hurry. I grumbled at her to be quiet while I dug a pair of sandals out of the closet then put Sorrow on the porch. He'd be fine, kept busy chewing the rope I tied him with, or breaking through one of the screens. I slipped on the sandals and let myself be pushed out the door to her black and white, a new one Chief Lucky Barnard, Dolly's boss, bought second-hand after Dolly had totaled the last one down in Arnold's Swamp.
"Terrible thing." She threw an arm over the seat and turned to watch while she backed up my sand drive. We bounced between silver birches and out onto Willow Lake Road with stomach-turning speed. Once on the blacktop I expected the siren but for almost the first time since I'd met her, the siren stayed silent.
"You better not be getting me into trouble," I grumbled.
She craned her neck toward the front window, watching the road for deer and coyote. I didn't get another word out of her until we'd made our way sedately through Leetsville and bounced two miles down a sandy two-track to a cleared place in an open field. Dolly parked against a big rock and got out, slamming her door behind her. I struggled with my door, got out, and took off after her as she ran up over a rise and down a steep hill toward a flat, blue elliptical lake set against a shore of deep, yellow sand. No cottages. No people. This was a wild place with only a gull high above us, a circle of deep woods behind us, and bright spring sunshine.
I ran hard after Dolly, who held her gun against her thigh as she bobbled along. Up and down her booted feet loped, throwing sand back at me. I began to think this was some kind of challenge, a race she was putting me through. I was a year older than Dolly, but a lot thinner. I reached inside-as runners do-and put on a last burst of speed when, at a small, hidden cove more than halfway around the lake, she stopped dead and stood staring at her feet. I pulled up short and bent over, hands on my knees, panting, eyes closed. Out of shape, I told myself, then opened my eyes. To my right, Dolly's booted feet sank slightly into the water. In front of her wet boots, half buried in dark, wet sand, lay a human skull. At first my mind told me it was a white rock, as I grasped for something ordinary. It was a skull, white and picked clean. As if staring out at the lake, it lay turned away from us. The eye sockets were shadowed, the jaw tilted forward, trying to disappear from sight. Near the top, at the back of the head, a neat black hole with tiny radiating cracks marred the bright white of the naked bone.
That small hole turned the skull from a thing of creepy interest into a chilling relic of violence.
Excerpted from DEAD FLOATING LOVERS by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Can't get enough of this series! Devoured all 5 books - wish there were more
Emily Kincaid is a mystery writer ... ar at least, she would like to be. She's settled into a small town in Northern Michigan and loves it there. It's peaceful, it's beautiful, and it's away from her ex-husband. That all changes when her friend, Deputy Dolly Wakowski is sent to investigate the finding of some bones ... which turn out to be the bones of her husband who disappeared with an Indian girlfriend 13 years earlier. And then more bones are found .. presumably the girlfriend. The Indians are demanding that the body of the girl be returned to them post haste so she can continue her journey to heaven. But who would have killed these 2 people ... other than Dolly? This one is billed as a cozy mystery, but I feel it's actually a step above. What impressed me the most are the quirky characters. They are so much fun. There is Deputy Dolly herself ... full of insecurity who has been hurt so much in the past, but won't let anyone see the pain. She and Emily are true friends ... the kind of friend you never have to lie to or hide from. They can bicker and poke at each other without hurting their relationship. Then there is the librarian. She's got such a good heart. She'll do anything for anyone. She's first in line to organize a find raiser, take food to a needy family,/ But she won't let you borrow any of the library's books unless she thinks you will appreciate it. Henry is an older gentleman, Emily's closest neighbor. He's a mushroom hunter, finding morels and selling them. He's taught Emily a lot about the hunting, about her gardening. His little quirk -- he's always wearing a black suit. As he says --- just in case he drops dead, he'll already be dressed for it. The mystery was a good one... not something I could foresee, which makes any mystery book much better in my eye. I loved that the American Indians played a part ... and the location is somewhere I could see myself living. The book did not send my heart into overdrive. It's a smooth journey from start to end and it did hold my attention all the way. Many thanks to the author / Beyond the Page Publishing / Netgalley for the digital copy of this book. Opinions expressed here are unbiased and entirely my own.