They find her by the river, naked, cold—and dead. Police chief Rocco Herbert recognizes her as the checkout girl at the Murphysville supermarket, an ordinary citizen of the easygoing Connecticut suburb whose death was anything but easy. In one hand, she clutches a First Cavalry Division shoulder patch, the kind handed out by Spook, a traumatized Vietnam veteran who gives the mementos of his old unit to everyone he meets. Maybe Spook killed her, maybe he didn’t, but without Lyon Wentworth’s help, he’s going to hang.
A children’s book author with a knack for solving impossible crimes, Lyon and his wife, no-nonsense state senator Bea Wentworth, are Spook’s only hope. But as the couple digs into the circumstances surrounding the girl’s murder, they’ll find that Murphysville hides as many grim secrets as the jungles of Vietnam.
There has never been an amateur sleuth quite like Lyon Wentworth, a hot-air balloonist who solves crimes between writing bestsellers. Death in the Secret Garden will push him closer to the limit than he’s ever gone before.
Death in the Secret Garden is the 9th book in the Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Death in the Secret Garden
A Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mystery
By Richard Forrest
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 2004 Richard Forrest
All rights reserved.
'Spook did this!'
There was a slight quiver in the young patrolman's voice as he stooped to look more closely at the naked corpse. The flesh around his cheek bones tightened. His fists clenched and unclenched as he turned toward his superior who paced a dozen yards away. His first words had been inaudible due to a stiff breeze blowing from the river in eddies that swept through the high stand of pines lining the promontory.
'Spook killed her!' he repeated in a louder voice.
Police Chief Rocco Herbert acknowledged the statement with a nod. He continued to pace a slow parabolic path that traced an orbit a dozen yards from the body. He carried his large bulk on a massive frame with surprising lightness. He walked with a supple grace that belied his six-and-a-half-feet height, which was matched by a body weight that was closer to three than two hundred pounds.
Patrolman Jamie Martin stood rigidly erect. He exhaled with a snorting vent of air. Although he had been on the Murphysville, Connecticut police force for several years, Jamie presented a naivety and innocence. Town residents still referred to him as 'that nice young policeman.'
'Spook ripped her clothes off, raped her, and then killed her.' He delivered the assessment in a near shout that bounced off the large glacial boulders that bounded the perimeter of the small wooded cove. 'I don't know, maybe he raped her after he killed her,' he said in a lower tone.
Rocco stopped at the foot of a black and white checkered blanket spread neatly on the ground on the far side of the clearing. A carefully folded pile of clothing — panties, bra, simple white blouse and jeans — was placed to the side. 'Think not, Jamie.'
The police chief had purposely not advanced further toward the body. He had recognized the young woman from a dozen feet away. He had faced her at least once a week for the past six months as she worked the express checkout counter at the town's only supermarket. He knew her as an attractive, flirtatious young woman, with a ripe voluptuousness and zest. Her darting eyes at men of any age were the merriment of a girl passing over the cusp of youth into womanhood. The flirting gestures did not promise future commitments as much as they expressed feminine vitality. The live girl of the express check-out line had somehow come to represent all young women of that age. He had casually enjoyed her youthful energy, which was now dissipated by the obscene position that signified a violent death.
The nude girl sprawled in the clearing was nearly the same age and build as his own daughter, who was a rising sophomore at a small liberal arts college in upper New York State. It was this similarity that kept him from an immediate examination of her body. 'Why do you think it's Spook?' he asked tiredly.
Jamie Martin reached toward the corpse's outstretched hand and prized the fingers apart. He removed a small piece of cloth containing yellow and black markings. He waved it overhead like a miniature flag. 'Here's the evidence that proves it!' he crowed.
'Oh, my God,' Rocco muttered as he turned away. This violation of the rules of evidence made him want to bang his head against the nearest rock in complete frustration. 'Jamie,' he finally managed to say after a pause that was long enough for him to regain control. 'During your training at the Police Academy, did they not casually mention, in passing, something about the proper method to establish a proper chain of evidence? Did they not touch on the rules of gathering said evidence?'
The young patrolman looked sheepishly at the patch of yellow and black clutched in his fist. 'It's a First Cav army shoulder patch, Chief. Look.' As if in propitiation, he thrust the patch reverently toward Rocco. 'Everyone knows how Spook is about the First Cav. He hands these things out to anyone who will take one. It was clutched in her fingers.'
As he knew he would eventually be forced to do, Rocco approached the body. He walked gingerly as if the ground beneath him were brittle enough to shatter and hurl him into a deep abyss. He avoided her as long as he could while he looked toward the distant Connecticut River below the cliff. He took the patch from Jamie and glanced at it long enough to establish that it was a First Cavalry Division shoulder patch. He gently placed the cloth in the dead girl's outstretched hand and folded her fingers shut.
'You never touched her, understand, Jamie?'
'Yes, sir. I never got close to her.' He backed halfway across the clearing. 'She died hard, Chief.'
Rocco ignored his subordinate. 'Go back to the car and radio Communications to send an assistant medical examiner out here. And for Christ's sake, tell them not to send laughing Lars this time.' Jamie gave a half salute. 'Bring an evidence bag and tweezers from my car,' Rocco yelled after him. 'I want the ME to take the patch from her fingers. Go!' Rocco turned his attention back to the sprawled cadaver as Jamie jogged toward the logging road.
Her painful progress across the clearing was obvious. A trail of blood flecks and disturbed leaves led from the blanket to the far edge of the clearing. She seemed to have fallen midway across and crawled the last few yards with the last shreds of her strength. Her direction seemed to be toward the cliff path that led down to the river.
He forced himself to kneel for a closer examination. She lay on her side while the hand clutching the patch stretched beyond her head. An apron of blood below her waist covered the belly and pelvic area. The injury seemed to indicate a low wound near or through the umbilicus that possibly severed the lower abdominal aorta. The autopsy would confirm that and indicate any sexual activity as well as the exact cause of death.
There was no question that the patch Jamie had taken from her fingers was a First Cavalry Division shoulder insignia. Every resident of Murphysville knew that Spook was obsessed with the First Cav, which was his old Viet Nam unit. The traumatized veteran had forced the patch on countless adults and numerous children. Its appearance clutched in the dead girl's fingers could be very significant or perfectly innocent.
He took a last look at the young woman's face before he stood and turned away from the body. Her after-image haunted him. The final freeze of expression had multiple meanings: a look of astonishment at the ferocity of her attack, utter disbelief in her mortal wound, and a look of despair that only the young can create when their past visions of immortality are shattered.
He walked the perimeter of the clearing. This small cove was only one of many scattered through the thousand acres of state forest that ran in a narrow band along the promontory above the river. It was an undeveloped park area traversed by a few old logging and maintenance roads. There were no formal recreational facilities for camping or hiking. Rocco knew that the area was used by only the most ardent naturalists, illegal hunters, and lovers. The neat pile of clothing near the spread blanket indicated the latter possibility for the dead girl.
If there had been a sexual attack there might be signs of a struggle or perhaps other evidence. He mentally divided the small clearing into grid squares and began a methodical inspection. He found tiny blood spatters on a six-foot-high boulder that squatted near the blanket. These markings were consistent with the trail that led across the cove to the place where she had finally expired.
He imagined her reeling back against the boulder after the wound. The blood on her hands indicated that she had probably clutched her belly while she stumbled across the clearing until she fell. Unable to stand, she began a painful crawl on hands and knees in a desperate attempt to escape.
A deep cackle from the nearby logging road shattered the glen's quiet. Rocco cringed. His request had been ignored. That laughter signaled that Happy Hansen was the assistant medical examiner assigned to the case.
The doctor stepped into the clearing and thumped Rocco on the back with sufficient force to stagger the large man. 'What say, little guy?' Hansen chortled.
'I'm saying,' Rocco said over the medical examiner's shoulder, 'that Jamie Martin had best check out that old car parked on the shoulder since it may belong to the victim.'
'Now that makes sense,' Hansen said with his usual chuckle. He looked at the distant body. 'I pronounce the victim female, young, and unclothed.'
Rocco frowned. 'Lars, didn't medical school, the state health commissioner, or anyone else ever teach you to show a modicum of respect for the dead?'
The medical examiner turned abruptly serious as he sauntered toward the body. 'The school of tragedy taught me that if you are to survive in my business you have to laugh. Men like you, who work and live in pleasant little towns, don't face this type of thing two or three times a day. You guys have coffee with friends at a neighborhood breakfast table, run a school crossing at noon, check out the library for loitering problems, stake out a stop sign, and handle a drunk in the late afternoon. My patients are always dead and have departed in more ways than you can possibly imagine.' He knelt next to the body. 'Yep. This one is dead like the others.' He tried to restrain his laughter, but his shoulders convulsed and squirts of merriment bubbled through.
Rocco refused to become involved in this doctor's aberration. 'Can you give me a hint as to how she might have died?'
'Usually the heart stops. In fact, the heart always stops.'
'Damn it all, Happy! You know what I mean.'
'Spook did it,' Jamie Martin announced from the edge of the clearing. 'She's got a First Cav patch clutched in her hand.'
Rocco cast his subordinate a withering glance.
Lars Hansen glanced at Rocco with a shrug. 'Let us preserve the evidence,' he said to himself as he reached toward them. Rocco slapped an acetate evidence bag and tweezers into the ME's fingers. Hansen carefully removed the patch from the fingers. 'First Cav all right,' he said. 'Jamie, do you really think that Spook is ever sober long enough to hold a small-caliber weapon steady enough to make a low wound like this?'
'Thirty-two?' Rocco asked.
'I should think so. Small entrance wound in the lower belly. Ballistics will tell for sure.'
'Entrance wound through the umbilicus,' Rocco said. 'With that much bleeding it must have severed the lower aorta.'
'Need about a ten-degree upward trajectory to do that,' Lars added. 'I'll tell you for sure when I get her on the table.'
As a line of vehicles began to gather along the dirt logging road, groups of men and women began to filter into the clearing. Two paramedics pushed a gurney toward the body and stood to the side waiting for the ME to finish. Lab techs from the state forensic lab were accompanied by a photographer and a detective from the state police barracks. They talked of mundane things in subdued voices.
'Time of death?' Rocco asked.
'A quick estimate based on lividity is three to five hours ago,' Lars said. 'Who found her?'
'The minister of Saint James Church came across the body.'
'The good reverend was out here watching for eagles.'
'Jesus, Lars, I'm not into eagles today. I have enough other problems. I know this girl and she's all of maybe eighteen.'
Happy inserted a thermometer into the corpse. 'What's her name?' He read the thermometer. 'Based on temp, I change the estimate to three to four hours.'
A mental image of the girl's supermarket name badge flashed before Rocco. 'Boots,' he said as he searched for her last name. 'Boots Anderson, I think.'
'That must be Lister Anderson's kid,' Lars said. 'He's a mechanic down at the Chevy agency.'
'That old Impala in the road is registered to a Bonnarah Anderson,' Jamie Martin said.
Rocco nodded. 'I'll have the lab boys impound it and do their thing. It's time to interview the neighbors,' he commanded.
'Hell, Chief,' Martin said. 'No one lives around here. The river is down there.' He made a sweeping gesture along the promontory. 'The state forest runs along this ridge for nearly a mile. We're in like the boonies.'
'See if Lyon Wentworth saw or heard anything. He lives up the road in the other direction at Nutmeg Hill.'
Lars Hansen laughed as he looked up from his examination of the body. 'Wentworth hear anything? He probably heard a lot. Like maybe voices crying in the wilderness.'
'How about space aliens?' Jamie Martin added.
'There's a real space cadet for you,' Happy Hansen said as the two men laughed in unison.
Rocco frowned until the patrolman's laugh gurgled to a stop. 'See Wentworth now,' he commanded. 'Do I have to say more?'
Lyon Wentworth couldn't work. He glared at the computer monitor with dislike. Its blank blue face stared back like an indifferent Cyclops. The words necessary to give life to his Wobbly monsters and place them in a coherent story were unavailable. The elusive words had fled to some unknown region where they hid and defied location. He couldn't resurrect the missing sentences, much less type them into the machine on the desk.
His newest children's book, The Wood Wobblies, pitted his red-eyed, long-tailed, but benign monsters against ecologically evil paper companies who were clear-cutting a New England forest. The Wobblies' intention was to haunt the woods until the paper company reformed. Today there was little haunting and absolutely no reform.
He clicked to the software icons and placed the cursor on an entertainment program. When the game menu appeared he immediately entered 'Rodent's Revenge'. He knew it was avoiding work, and he felt vaguely ashamed, but was soon immersed in the shifting computer images of mice chasing cats through a complicated maze.
The door chimed.
Lyon catapulted from his chair with gratitude for the interruption. Nutmeg Hill's isolation discouraged casual visitors. The usual caller was either a Federal Express delivery man or a stranded motorist who wanted to call a motor club.
Several years ago, only short months after the death of their young daughter, Lyon and Bea had literally stumbled across Nutmeg Hill. To deal with their grief they had forced themselves into the habit of taking long walks. They pushed these lengthy hikes until they were physically tired to the point of exhaustion. Only sleep allowed partial relief from their bitter memories.
One Sunday morning they had followed the ridge line from the state forest. They found an abandoned house with boarded windows that was nearly covered with undergrowth. It had been vacant for a generation. Its solid New England construction, built by shipwrights for a whaling sea captain, had allowed the building to survive its abandonment.
They bought the house from the estate of the sea captain's last surviving relative. The aged shell of a house, with fifty-nine acres, abutted the state forest. Nutmeg Hill's reconstruction took several years of hard manual labor. The daunting refurbishment occupied them to such an extent that they were able to survive their grief.
Their home was located on a high saucer-shaped promontory above the Connecticut River. Anyone who approached the reconstructed building on the long driveway leading up from the secondary highway first saw the widow's walk, which stretched the length of the gambrel roof, and then the solid square lines of the house.
Lyon opened the front door to find Jamie Martin slouched against the wall. The youthful-looking patrolman straightened when he saw Lyon. 'I didn't hear you drive up,' Lyon said.
'I came through the woods from the state land,' Martin said as he smiled at the tall man in the doorway.
Lyon Wentworth was a slender six feet. He had a shock of brown-greying hair that protruded over his forehead. He often brushed the forelock back with an unconscious gesture. He had an infectious smile, which often transmitted a fey quality. His usual dress was boat shoes without socks, khaki work pants and a loose sport shirt. His ensemble was not necessarily color-coordinated.
'We got a shooting in the woods. The chief wants to know if you heard or saw anything about three hours ago,' Jamie continued.
'I thought I heard a pistol shot about then,' Lyon answered. 'That's not unusual around here. People are always going to the state forest to plink or try out a weapon.' Jamie made meticulous notes with large letters in a small pad. 'Who was injured?'
'Injured, hell! She's deader'n a baited squirrel. Young kid who works down at the supermarket, name of Boots Anderson.'
Lyon felt that small jolt people experience when they meet the unexpected. 'I know her. She graduated from Murphysville High School last year. I gave a talk on children's literature to her English class last May.'
'She learned more than English this year. Word at Sarge's bar is that Boots was getting her bones jumped by Eddy Rashish.'
'Eddy of Rashish Motors? He's old enough to be her father.'
'Well, Eddy's old lady sure ain't Boots' mother.'
'Is Rocco interviewing Eddy?'
'I don't know if he knows that Eddy and Boots were playing house. Don't matter none, Mr. Wentworth. Spook is the one who killed her.'
Excerpted from Death in the Secret Garden by Richard Forrest. Copyright © 2004 Richard Forrest. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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