Celebrated glass artist Dennis Lansing is returning to St. Petersburg, Florida, for an exhibit at the world-renowned Salvador Dali Museum. His unique style of embedding document images in his art is at the vanguard of contemporary glasswork. But as Savannah’s first boyfriend and a former apprentice to her father, Dennis’s return home has her reflecting on the past—a trip down memory lane that takes a dark turn when Dennis is found murdered at the museum with an old reference letter from her father in his pocket. A search through her father’s records sheds new light on Dennis’s history, but it seems his present life wasn’t so transparent either. Now, with a gallery of suspects to consider, it’s up to Savannah to figure out who fits the mold of a murderer.
“Will keep you guessing to the end!” —Krista Davis, New York Times bestselling author
“A kaleidoscope of perfection, with a feisty heroine, exquisite plot and master storytelling.” —Liz Mugavero, author of the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries
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"They call it The Enigma," said Savannah Webb as she stared up at the dark blue glass structure ballooning out of the Dali Museum.
It stood proud against the warm evening light on the calm waters of Tampa Bay. The square concrete structure contrasted with the huge geodesic bulbous glass windows that oozed from the front of the building around to the other side. It fired the evening with an air of anticipation for a surrealistic experience.
"The building is as much an exhibit as anything inside." Savannah's balance wobbled and she quickly grabbed the arm of her boyfriend Edward Morris. She hadn't worn heels this high since, well, since high school. It was taking a little longer than she expected to find a comfortable stride.
Edward folded her hand securely into the crook of his arm. He lifted his chin as they approached the entrance. He wore the tux his parents had bought him when he'd graduated from University. It had been a good investment. One of the many advantages of growing up British — elegance and frugality traveled comfortably hand in hand.
Savannah relaxed and her balance returned. "Thanks for the arm. Pitching onto the concrete in a face splat is not the way I want to be remembered at this reception."
Edward squeezed her hand. "I'm the lucky one. You look spectacular."
Savannah smiled. Her dress choices had been small. As the owner of the venerable family-owned Webb's Glass Shop, her wardrobe was basically logo shirts with comfortable slacks or jeans. Luckily, this little black dress fit like it was born to party. Using bits of red, orange, and cobalt blue, she had created a statement necklace of kilnformed glass medallions with a matching pair of small button earrings. She had also created a barrette that she'd clipped into her black curly hair.
"The building opened on January 11th, 2011. It's apparently an auspicious date that adds up to a lucky number seven. I wouldn't know, but the museum has been incredibly successful. So, who can say whether that choice was lucky or predisposed to shower the museum with good fortune? Not me."
"It looks like a bunker," said Edward.
"Well, with such a valuable collection inside, eighteen-inch-thick hurricane-proof walls seem like the minimum precaution. I love it — perfectly Dali."
Edward handed the invitation to the uniformed security guard at the members-only reception desk. A name tag declared him to be Lucas Brown, Security Manager. "Thank you for attending the opening reception for our special exhibition." He looked at his display monitor and picked up a bright red Tyvek wristband. "Welcome, Miss Savannah Webb of Webb's Glass Shop." He peeled off the backing and circled it around her left wrist. He looked back at his monitor. "And Mr. Edward Morris, owner of Queen's Head Pub, guest of Ms. Webb." He fastened an orange band around Edward's wrist.
Lucas waved a hand to his left. "Refreshments are being served in the café. The exhibit is on the third floor and the celebrated artist is receiving invited guests in the Community Room. That's the large room behind and to the right of the Gala café." The monitor beeped a message, which he bent over to read. Then he leaned over to Savannah's ear. "You are most particularly requested to meet the artist." He straightened back up. "Make your way through the gift shop and you'll find the circular stairway to the right of the café. The elevators are just beyond the stairway. Please enjoy yourselves!" He smiled briefly and turned to the next guest.
They walked through the extensive gift shop to the café. Edward flagged down a server holding a tray of bubbly flutes. He grabbed two. "Here, luv." He handed her a flute. "I know you love champagne."
Savannah smiled. They clinked glasses and sipped. She licked her lips, then smiled. "Delicious. That's an excellent vintage. They're not stinting on the caliber of the refreshments." She looked at Edward's puzzled frown over the rim of her flute. "It's pretty common to get cheap eats at these exhibits. The artists usually have to buy everything."
They each took a skewer of grilled shrimp from another of the many servers.
"Scrumptious." She grabbed his hand. "Come around to the outside. There's something back there I think you'll appreciate."
They took a left at the café and exited the building through two sets of double doors onto an outdoor space populated by Dali-inspired sculptures. The most prominent was a giant up-curled black mustache with a space in the center for posing.
Savannah pulled on Edward's hand and stopped at an opening in the hedges at the far back of the property. "This is it."
"Is this a maze?" He looked at the entrance with his arms out wide as if to hug the world. "I love them."
"I know. I can't believe you didn't know this was here." She smiled and stepped into the graveled pathway on her tiptoes to prevent her heels from sinking into the sandy soil below the thin layer of gravel. "Come on. The party can wait a few minutes."
It took less than five minutes of curving loops and whirls to make their way to the central circle of the maze. Edward pulled her into his arms for a warm kiss. "Thank you. I enjoyed my surprise."
"I know these things are popular in Europe, but pretty rare here." She had given him a key to her house last month. Since her father's murder, she was finding it hard to commit to a permanent live-in relationship. "We need to get —" She screeched and began to fall. Edward caught her around the waist and lifted her up to extract her heels from the soft ground.
"Those delicious shoes are a hazard to your ankles in this footing. I'll have you back in a jiff."
"No need." Savannah wiggled herself out of his grasp and carefully onto the path. "I think I stepped on something. I'm fine now." She straightened her dress and looked down on the path. "There it is. That's what tripped me." She bent and picked up a cardboard hamburger container. "This is a strange place to eat fast food. Who would do something like this? I'll put it in the trash can inside."
"Speaking of inside, we need to get going," said Edward.
They returned to the building, and Savannah tossed the wrapper into the first waste can she saw. They replaced their empty flutes with fresh champagne then climbed the white spiral stairway to the third floor and entered the main exhibit hall reserved for visiting collections. A ten-foot-tall freestanding banner announced the exhibit with a picture of Dennis Lansing beside a tall, bloodred, heart-shaped vessel etched with scribbled writing and images of lilacs and daffodils.
Edward stood in front of the banner. "What an unusual combination. My mother is fascinated with the Victorian secret language of flowers. She would know what they mean."
"That's a thing?" asked Savannah. "Really? Explain."
He grimaced. "Ugh! Mum gave me this lecture frequently. She couldn't fathom that I might not be interested. You might as well have the short version. History relates that during the reign of Queen Victoria, the language of flowers was as important to people as being well dressed. For example, the recognizable scent of a specific flower sent its own unique message. Flowers adorned almost everything ... hair, clothing, jewelry, gowns, men's lapels, home décor and china, and stationery, to name a few. A young man could either please or displease a lady by his gift of flowers. They had a silent meaning of their very own, and could 'say' what was not dared to be spoken."
The exhibit space was filled with about thirty glass vessels, each resting on a tall white pillar standing about four feet high. Overhead track lighting illuminated the glass from several angles to show off the deep colors and highlight the intricate etchings. Savannah tucked her hand into Edward's arm as they walked slowly through the exhibit. It seemed a little intrusive to overhear the quiet crowd admiring and commenting on Dennis's skill and talent.
When they were approaching the last of the pieces, Savannah saw a familiar-looking fiftyish woman in a plain black cotton shirtwaist standing in front of the large red glass vessel. "Mrs. Lansing? Do you remember me? I'm Savannah Webb. I knew Dennis from St. Petersburg High School."
"My goodness. Yes, I remember you." The small lady's bright blue eyes lit up her warm smile. She grasped Savannah's hand with both of hers. "Savannah, it's wonderful to see you here. I do so wish that things had worked out differently between you and Dennis. It would have made such a difference." Her phone pinged from within a pearl evening bag. She slipped it out and her face stiffened. "Oh, excuse me. I should have been downstairs by now. I've dawdled among the display pieces for too long, again. Dennis's wife will be annoyed." She left and they watched her hurrying down the spiral staircase.
Edward tilted his head and raised his eyebrows. "I am beginning to suspect that you have a certain history with this artist. Am I right?
"Yes, but it was a long time ago. I was a freshman in high school. We dated for a few weeks."
"So, here in the States, as a freshman, you would have been about fourteen?"
"Yes, I was fourteen. It was at the very beginning of the school year. It will be nice to catch up with him and his career." She leaned in closer to look at the red vessel that was featured in all the promotional materials advertising the exhibit. It contained an etched image of a note in rounded loopy handwriting. Savannah straightened up quickly. That was her handwriting! Dennis had included one of her childish love notes in his featured artwork. She felt a warm flush grow from her throat to her ears.
"What's wrong?" Edward slipped an arm around her waist. "Has the champagne gone to your head already?"
She ran a hand through her curls and smiled weakly. "Yes, that must be it. I've only had two small glasses. We'd better do our meet and greet before I become insensible."
"That's not likely. You're too strong minded for that."
They left the gallery and made their way to the ground floor.
Savannah slipped her hand through Edward's arm. "I think we'd better get into the receiving line. I want to tell Dennis how much I enjoyed his exhibit and how much I appreciate his support of my etching class."
Edward placed his hand over hers and they walked to the entrance of the community room. The chatter from inside was spilling out into the hallway. There were only a few people in line.
"Savannah! Savannah Webb, is that you?" said a trim man with a red cummerbund and matching red bowtie in an expertly fitted tux. "I haven't seen you since I graduated. You'd just finished freshman ... maybe sophomore year. It's Charles." He shook her free hand like a pump handle. He stepped back and looked her up and down. "You've grown up. Definitely up." He smiled. "I'm still on the short side. You remember me. Don't you? I'm Charles King."
Savannah scanned the craggy face and tried to age it back ten years. Nothing. "I don't seem to recall."
"I was a friend of our famous artist here. I used to see you at Webb's Glass Shop when your dad was running that apprentice program. Surely, you remember?" Savannah smiled and shook her head. "I'm trying. I think I remember a Chuck, but he was ... well, he was a big guy."
"Absolutely me. I was a big guy back then. Huge. Obese, even. Yeah. "He patted his slim waist with both hands. "I got that fixed when I decided to go into politics." He turned to Edward and pumped his hand while slapping him on the shoulder. "So, you're the lucky one who has captured our lovely Savannah's heart. I'm Charles King, your state representative up in Tallahassee. Yep, I'm a local boy done good. I hear good things about Queen's Head Pub. Nice to meet you. Too bad you can't vote. I have an election coming up soon. Are you going to apply for citizenship?"
Savannah snapped her fingers. "I've got it! You were a couple years ahead of me. I remember now that you were a close friend of Dennis's." She turned to Edward. "Dad and I attended the commencement ceremony that year because of that apprentice program that Dad established."
"Good girl!" Charles looked behind them and nodded to another guest. "I'll come by the shop to see you this week. It'll be good to catch up. Excuse me, I must speak to a major party supporter over there." He disappeared in a half run to greet a man and wife in elegant evening wear.
Savannah shuddered. "Ugh. I remember now that he was exactly that overbearing when he was our student council president. It was a testament to his persuasive powers that we would elect the fat boy over the football star."
"I know. Politically incorrect," said Savannah. "But he was quite the organizer. Ugh! Will high school ever be over? I didn't like it at the time, and I have few fond memories."
"Wise girl." Edward immediately responded with, "Oops, sorry. I didn't mean to call you a girl. I know that makes you angry ... but in my defense, everyone does it."
Savannah's voice tightened. "It doesn't make it right. I'm no one's girl. I'm a woman fully grown." She tapped a pointed finger into his chest. With her three-inch heels, she stood taller than their equal six-foot height and she was enjoying the temporary advantage. "Remember that."
"Sorry, sorry, sorry." Edward chuckled. "Remember, I'm still a work in progress. British girls — young women, I mean — are quite different. They seem to be on a suicide mission to be more like bad lads for rude behavior. I am sorry."
Savannah closed her eyes then opened them again. "You're forgiven. I'm sorry for being so prickly. I'm glad that you know that about me." She downed the rest of her champagne and Edward placed both flutes on the tray of the nearest server passing by.
"Let's get in line to meet Dennis. I think he'll recognize me. I haven't seen him since graduation either."
"Same year as State Congressman Hot Air?" "Funny, funny. You know I've watched that television program, MP Minutes on BBC America. You Brits have some clowns, too. Both our countries appear to lack for any kind of qualified political leadership, let alone a true visionary. An absence of ethics and brains seems to be the perfect formula to be a successful politician. That certainly describes Chuck."
A tap on her arm caused Savannah to turn to see Betty Lansing standing at her elbow smiling up to her. "Savannah, I didn't mean to be so abrupt in the exhibit hall upstairs. I'm glad we can talk a bit more. You have bloomed into a beautiful woman. I remember your father fondly. In fact, we were good friends while Dennis was in the apprentice program, but after Dennis graduated, your dad and I drifted apart. He was so focused on you and his glass business, I didn't have a chance."
Savannah eyed Edward and mouthed help. She turned back and took the woman's hand in both of hers. "Of course, I remember your visits. You talked to my dad for hours about Dennis's progress. Dennis was one of the first students to turn his life around." She turned to Edward. "This is my friend, Edward Morris. He owns the restaurant pub next door to the glass shop. You remember that old gas station? It was converted about ten years ago into a bar. Edward added a commercial kitchen and a passel of talented chefs."
Betty's eyes narrowed. "Yes, I think I recall, but my memory isn't as good as it used to be and I don't really get about very much now. Anyway, I'll let you young folks be. It was nice to see you." She turned away back toward the Gala café.
"I remember her exactly like that — nice — and then she would disappear."
"So I'm a 'friend'?" Edward air quoted the word friend.
"Please, don't read anything into what I say. I've had the dreaded second glass of champagne. It whips my words into a swirling mess. Beer doesn't do that to me. I need to stick to beer."
"Fat chance," said Edward. "Relax. Enjoy this."
They joined the short reception line to greet the featured artist of the new glass exhibition. Dennis Lansing wasn't wearing a tuxedo. Instead, he wore a unique Dali-like navy silk suit with an outlandish tie and beside him stood a woman dressed as a perfect replica of Dali's wife Gala.
Gala was famous for wearing the latest avant-garde couture designs to the eclectic performances that Dali arranged for the display of his latest paintings. It spoke of an incredibly confident persona to pull off the Gala impression so well.
The line moved quickly. Most of the attendees seemed to be sponsors and Dali Museum members with no real connection to the artist.
Excerpted from "Etched in Tears"
Copyright © 2017 Cheryl Hollon.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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