Lyon Wentworth is struggling through a bout of writer’s block when a funeral comes to call. The children’s book author had no clue his old friend Dalton Turman had died, nor that his last request had been burial at Lyon’s house. And yet, here are two men of the cloth dragging a coffin through his front door, rearranging his living room for a wake, and asking Lyon where he wants them to put the snake handler’s serpents. Lyon’s patience with his old army buddy’s wishes is nearly exhausted when the “deceased” leaps out of the coffin and the trick is revealed. Dalton Turman, prankster extraordinaire, is alive and kicking.
Dalton has come north to invite Lyon and his wife, Bea, down to Mississippi for a party on his ultra-luxe new houseboat. But when Dalton and the boat disappear, it falls to Lyon and Bea to locate their far-out friend and bring him back to reality—dead or alive.
Richard Forrest’s Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mysteries aren’t just thrilling, they’re funny, too. In this wild yarn of practical jokers and the people who kill them, the victims will all die laughing.
Death on the Mississippi is the 7th book in the Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Death on the Mississippi
A Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mystery
By Richard Forrest
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1989 Richard Forrest
All rights reserved.
It would be so easy to destroy them.
A simple mental command could cause a twitch of his right hand on the switch and their existence would end.
Lyon Wentworth was completely disgusted with his Wobblies. He crossed his hands over the word processor and rested his chin on his forearms as he stared out the window at the frolicking pair. His two creations pranced on the stone parapet that separated Nutmeg Hill's patio from the steep drop to the Connecticut River far below.
The Wobblies were performing some sort of ritualistic movement on the narrow ledge. Their tails thumped the stone in time to a silent internal rhythm, and their forked tongues flicked rapidly in and out. They could stray, but it seemed proscribed that they stay within his field of vision. They had been difficult all morning, and now they rejoiced in new-found freedom.
Until they decided to return to the pages of his latest children's book, his literary production for the day would be minimal. It was going to be a long day. He would be forced to remain in his chair, alert before his machine, and hope they would return to remove the ravages of his writer's block.
A new sound from outside was a welcome diversion. He turned to hear the crunch of wheels on gravel in the long drive that led up to the house. He went to open the front door and lean against its frame as two somber vehicles slowed to a careful halt a few feet away. In the lead was a black, four-door sedan whose tinted windows made identification of its occupants impossible. The next in line was a hearse whose driver stared impassively ahead without acknowledging Lyon's presence.
Lyon straightened his lanky frame and walked to the sedan. He was a tall man of asthenic build and sharp features. A shock of blond-browning hair fell in a forelock over his forehead, and it was characteristic for him to sweep it back with his palm as he smiled. He was dressed, as he usually was, in khaki work pants, a loose sport shirt, and topsiders without socks.
The two men who emerged from the black sedan were an unmatched pair dressed in black suits with white shirts and dark ties. At Lyon's right was a squat, heavyset man who clenched a buff-colored file folder. His companion was tall and rangy.
"I am the Reverend Brumby," the squat man said as he extended a limp hand at Lyon. "My associate, Deacon Stockton, will assist me with the services."
"Services?" Lyon glanced nervously at the hearse and its stoic chauffeur. "You obviously have the wrong house."
Brumby officiously flicked open the folder. "Wentworth, Route Two, Nutmeg Hill, Murphysville, Connecticut."
"Well, yes, that is me." The day was deteriorating at a rapid rate. He wondered if it was too early to have a drink. The sun had to be over the yardarm in the Azores.
"Mr. Turman's instructions were quite specific. Surely, his lawyer notified you that the services would be held today?"
Lyon shook his head. "I don't know what in the world you are talking about."
Brumby frowned as he flipped a page in his folder. "You do know the deceased, Dalton Turman?"
"I've known Dalton for years, since we served in the army together."
"And you are aware that his final request was that the services be held at Nutmeg Hill?"
"I didn't even know he had died."
"It was an unfortunate accident at one of his construction sites," Brumby said. "I believe a backhoe ran amok."
"I'm really not prepared ..." Lyon started to say.
"You need not concern yourself with details, Mr. Wentworth. We are prepared to handle everything." Brumby made a finger signal toward the hearse.
Lyon stepped aside as the three men dressed in black began to efficiently perform their duties. Moving in silent unison, they opened the hearse's rear door, unfolded a gurney, silently slid the coffin from the vehicle onto the rolling stretcher, and pushed it toward the house. They jockeyed the coffin over the doorsill, down the hall into the living room, and immediately began to rearrange furniture.
Within minutes the proper funereal atmosphere had been achieved. Racks of flowers, brought in from the hearse, were arranged on a portable table behind the coffin. The gurney was draped in black, and the room's remaining furniture had been arranged in rows neatly aligned before the catafalque. Lyon had offered coffee, which had been refused, help, which was also refused; and was now relegated to the role of silent observer standing uselessly by the French doors.
Why had Dalton chosen Nutmeg Hill for his last rites? In the last decade the two men had only met occasionally perhaps once a year. The dead man's reasons were immaterial, for it was an obligation that must be fulfilled. Dalton had saved Lyon's life, and he would forever be indebted.
The Reverend Brumby stepped back from the coffin and quietly surveyed the room. He seemed satisfied, and nodded at Deacon Stockton, who returned to the car. "The services will be at two, Mr. Wentworth."
"Will there be anyone else here?"
"I believe there are a few select invited guests."
"I see," Lyon replied. He wondered, considering the seemingly shoddy efficiency of Dalton's executor's, whether anyone else would arrive. Brumby was unscrewing the coffin's lid. "What are you doing?" Lyon asked in alarm.
"Mr. Turman's last instructions specifically ordered an open-coffin service."
"Open coffin?" Lyon feared a horrific vision of Dalton's mutilated corpse as it might appear after having been crushed by a backhoe. He averted his head as the coffin lid was slowly raised.
Brumby folded his hands reverently. "So lifelike, so natural. Don't you think so, Mr. Wentworth?"
Lyon stood at the foot of the casket and looked down at the corpse. The rows of banked flowers to the rear were beginning to cast a sickening sweetish odor in the room. The pleated fabric lining the casket's interior appeared cheap and hastily installed. Dalton would never have approved. The dead man's face was hardly lifelike. It was chalk white, the features so alabaster they resembled a death mask. Dalton did not look asleep. As with most of the dead, he appeared dead.
Deacon Stockton returned to the house carrying a large wicker basket. "Where do we put the snakes?"
"The what?" Lyon whirled in astonishment to look at the large wicker basket. It began to sway in Stockton's grasp as living things inside shifted position.
"These are the snakes we handle during the service. We do a great snake routine, and if things really go right, people will speak in tongues."
"And ye shall handle serpents, and they shall not smite thee of true faith," Brumby intoned.
Stockton removed the cover of the basket. "Want to see?" He lifted a large timber rattlesnake whose tail immediately coiled over his arm. "George here has some great moves. He's a real crowd pleaser."
"We also brought a copperhead that's not exactly stage shy," Brumby added.
Stockton reluctantly stuffed the snake back into the basket. "Got a safe place for them, Wentworth? We don't like to leave them near the coffin during the viewing. Sometimes the bereaved accidentally kick over the basket, and then there's hell to pay."
"I'll find a place," Lyon said as he carried the basket into the kitchen. As he searched the room for a safe location, he wondered how speaking in tongues and the handling of serpents were going to strike a taciturn New England audience. He found a secure place in a lower dish cabinet large enough for the basket, and returned to the living room. He'd have to warn Rocco about the snakes so that the gargantuan police officer could stand at the rear of the room during that part of the service. Rocco might be nearly fearless in almost all situations, but his friend had one strong aversion, the object of which now rested in the kitchen.
He walked over to the coffin to look down at the dead Dalton Turman. "At least you're consistent to the end," Lyon said aloud.
The corpse's eyes snapped open as the body rose in the coffin. "Prankenstein strikes again!" Dalton Turman said before breaking into a high falsetto laugh.
The Governor of the State of Connecticut fought to control his rage as he confronted Senator Bea Wentworth.
The Governor was convinced that he was not a complete antifeminist. In fact, as he often told himself, he was married to a woman. A couple of his children were female. His Lieutenant Governor and one of his predecessors had been of the opposite gender, and there was a young lady in Winstead who ... but, to be opposed in fiscal matters dear to his political future by his own Senate Majority Leader, a member of his own party and ... He clenched his jaw to stifle a sexist epithet.
Outside of reaching for the thirty-eight police special clamped to the inside of the desk well and shooting his Majority Leader, there was only one course of action. It was pipe-tamping time. He reached for the tobacco humidor and began to methodically stuff his pipe with fresh mixture. He tamped the bowl gently with a sterling silver pestle and peered thoughtfully through horn-rims at Bea Wentworth. The Governor was not particularly fond of pipes, he preferred Cuban cigars, and his eyesight was perfect; but both props added to the thoughtful image he had cultivated over the years. The methodical and plodding routine was working. Bea was on the edge of her seat, her body tense as she leaned toward him.
"Tell me, Senator, do you really think it is appropriate to tack a children's day-care–center amendment to our general revenue bill?"
"You want budget approval and I want day care," Bea said. "That's the way it's going to be."
"The opposition just might blow us out of the water on this one, Senator," the Governor said mildly. He was proud of his self-control. It had taken years to curb his natural inclination to pound desks.
"I think I have most of the votes necessary, and it's so close to the end of the session that I can use some Senators' natural impatience as leverage." She stood at his desk with both hands curled over its edge. "With your help, we can pull this off, Governor."
"Without your costly amendment we would have a cozy surplus that we could use in other ways." Day care for welfare mothers amounted to zilch votes, he thought to himself. A cut in the capital-gains tax would bring in big bucks at the next campaign-contribution solicitation. If only he could find some old-fashioned dirt on this broad he might be able to control his Majority Leader. It wasn't from lack of trying. Last year he'd sent two members of his "confidential team" to Murphysville, where Wentworth lived. They had been instructed to dig around in the Senator's life and also look into the background of that nerd husband of hers. They had discovered zip, and after a couple of days the local police chief got on their case and threw them out of town.
It was pipe-lighting time, and that always took awhile. As the Governor worked on an even light, he observed the woman sitting across from him. Bea was not a large woman, but her compact figure was too full for her to be called petite. Her close-cropped, light hair often gave her a gamine-like appearance, an impression that could be quickly dispelled by watching her darting, intelligent eyes and an intense manner that revealed itself when she was concerned. She was concerned now.
Didn't this woman ever get drunk and do dumb things? Didn't she ever play around? Maybe her husband liked boys, that used to be good for a little political extortion.
He glanced at the blinking light on his call director and impatiently snatched the phone. "What?" He reluctantly handed the phone to Bea. "It's your office."
"Your husband called and said it was important for you to know that Dalton has arrived," the efficient voice said.
For a few moments the Governor of the State of Connecticut thought he had found deliverance. His Senate Majority Leader had turned pale, the hand clasping the phone shook, and she sat limply in the chair. She gave every appearance of having just suffered a minor stroke.
Bea shucked off a light suit jacket and threw her key ring on the hall table. She sighed. It had not been one of her better days. "I'm home!"
"Out on the patio," Lyon answered.
The soothing ambiance of Nutmeg Hill embraced and rejuvenated her as she walked past Lyon's study to the living room. They had discovered the two-hundred-year-old house with its gambrel roof and widow's walk on a long-ago Sunday hike. Boarded up and half hidden by plant growth, they had sensed that once it was refurbished the house on its spectacular perch on a promontory above the Connecticut River would fulfill all their expectations. It had taken years of hard work, but now that it was completed, their dream had come to fruition.
Her restored mood shattered when she saw the coffin in the living room.
She wouldn't ask. It wasn't necessary to know details now that Dalton Turman was back in town.
She mixed a martini for herself and poured a pony of Dry Sack sherry for Lyon at the bar cart and took the drinks out on the patio. Next to the parapet wall, Lyon was adjusting the tripod of his telescope. "Are we bird watching or is Debbi Wilcox skinny dipping off her dock again?" she asked as she put his sherry down on the wall.
Lyon shook his head as he glanced through the eyepiece. "You've got to see Dalton's latest acquisition."
"I will not look at his newest toy," Bea said. "I will not even acknowledge his existence."
Lyon made a minute adjustment to the telescope's lens. "I've never seen anything like this. Dalton had it designed and built to his own specifications, and he plans to sail it down the Inland Waterway to Florida."
"I refuse to look," Bea said. "You know, of course, that a practical joker of modest means is limited to exploding cigars and whoopee cushions. A rich practical joker is a menace to humanity, in the same category as depletion of the ozone layer and the sales tax."
"I take it we had a bad day in the Senate?"
"It wasn't exactly the ides of March, but if this state had a Tower of London, our commander in chief would have me billeted there."
"I knew you were going to have trouble with that rider to the revenue bill."
"I expected objections from fearless leader, and I think I can handle it. But, one thing I can not cope with tonight is making dinner for that man."
"And his new wife."
"The poor girl. The possible events on their wedding night boggles the mind."
Lyon laughed. "Dalton expected that reaction, so it's his treat. The caterers arrive at six, a few guests at seven. Come on now, take a look at this thing."
"I guess I'll have to." She bent over to peer through the telescope as Lyon went for fresh drinks.
The houseboat was temporarily berthed at a rickety wooden pier in a wooded cove on the far side of the Connecticut River. She estimated it to be seventy or eighty feet in length with rectangular lines. There was a ladder and swimming platform at the stern, a canopied rear deck, a main saloon with many windows, and a large foreward area for staterooms. The bow's slight curve gave the craft its only semblance of streamlining. A tall superstructure contained a wide pilot house and high mast that bristled with various types of radio dishes and antennas. Mahogany and teakwood rails with brass fittings shined in the dying sunlight.
She sensed Lyon back at her side. "It looks like Tara on pontoons."
"He never does anything halfway."
"If this telescope were attached to a cannon I could blow it out of the water."
"Such sentiments from the state's leading proponent of strict gun-control legislation?"
"That's rifles and handguns. I'm talking howitzers and missiles."
"Did you notice the boat's name? The Mississippi."
"Bring your drink and talk to me while I shower."
Bea let the multiple shower sprays tingle her body with water as warm as she could tolerate. She turned slowly from right to left as the water massaged away the day's tension. She had left the translucent shower door cracked and could see half of Lyon through the opening.
"You know, Wentworth," she said over the sound of running water. "I'm going to have the state librarian research the last witch burning we had in the town of Murphysville."
"Don't be sexist. It was a warlock in sixteen forty-five."
"It's my thought that it wasn't a witch ... warlock at all, but some guy who pulled a massive trick on the town that made them all so mad that they did him in. The burning stake was probably too good for him."
Excerpted from Death on the Mississippi by Richard Forrest. Copyright © 1989 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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