Except for the Bones

Except for the Bones

by Collin Wilcox

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A murder witness flees to California for protection, taking refuge in the theater
Diane Cutler is half drunk and half stoned when she sees her stepfather carrying the body out of the house. She and her boyfriend look on, horrified, as real estate tycoon Preston Daniels loads his dead mistress into the car. Unable to resist their curiosity, they follow him, and watch as he dumps the poor woman’s body in the rocks and sand of the Cape Cod landfill. Diane doesn’t know what to do with this dark knowledge, but her boyfriend sees it as an opportunity for blackmail—and is nearly beaten to death for it.
Terrified of her stepfather, Diane flees to the West Coast to ask theater director and sometimes private detective Alan Bernhardt for help. Alan is unavailable, but recommends his girlfriend and protégé, Paula, for the job. Paula may be an excellent actress, but playing PI will prove to be one of the most dangerous performances of her career.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480446502
Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Publication date: 10/01/2013
Series: The Alan Bernhardt Novels , #3
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 282
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Collin Wilcox (1924–1996) was an American author of mystery fiction. Born in Detroit, he set most of his work in San Francisco, beginning with 1967’s The Black Door—a noir thriller starring a crime reporter with extrasensory perception. Under the pen name Carter Wick, he published several standalone mysteries including The Faceless Man (1975) and Dark House, Dark Road (1982), but he found his greatest success under his own name, with the celebrated Frank Hastings series.
Hastings, a football player turned San Francisco homicide detective, made his debut in The Lonely Hunter (1969), and Wilcox continued to follow him for the rest of his career, publishing nearly two dozen novels in the series, which concludes with Calculated Risk (1995). Wilcox’s other best-known series stars Alan Bernhardt, a theatrical director with a habit of getting involved in behind-the-scenes mysteries. Bernhardt appeared in four more books after his introduction in 1988’s Bernhardt’s Edge.
Collin Wilcox (1924–1996) was an American author of mystery fiction. Born in Detroit, he set most of his work in San Francisco, beginning with 1967’s The Black Door—a noir thriller starring a crime reporter with extrasensory perception. Under the pen name Carter Wick, he published several standalone mysteries including The Faceless Man (1975) and Dark House, Dark Road (1982), but he found his greatest success under his own name, with the celebrated Frank Hastings series.
Hastings, a football player turned San Francisco homicide detective, made his debut in The Lonely Hunter (1969), and Wilcox continued to follow him for the rest of his career, publishing nearly two dozen novels in the series, which concludes with Calculated Risk (1995). Wilcox’s other best-known series stars Alan Bernhardt, a theatrical director with a habit of getting involved in behind-the-scenes mysteries. Bernhardt appeared in four more books after his introduction in 1988’s Bernhardt’s Edge.

Read an Excerpt

Except for the Bones

An Alan Bernhardt Novel

By Collin Wilcox


Copyright © 1991 Collin Wilcox
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-4650-2



July 15th

9:10 P.M., EDT

As he watched her come slowly down the staircase, a provocative upward view that enhanced the flare of faded blue jeans molding flanks and pelvis, Daniels felt himself tightening, involuntarily responding to the way she looked, the way she moved. She was thirty years old. Had she always moved like this, so sensually, so self-sufficiently, so disdainfully? Some women pandered to the male ego, titillated the male libido. Not Carolyn. She challenged men with a thinly veiled contempt for the weakness that made them want her.

Them that had, got.

And Carolyn had.

Meaning that her first impulse would be to throw the envelope in his face. Her reaction, her initial response, was predictable.

But it was her secondary response that would be definitive: the thrust that would follow the feint.

At floor level now, she put her canvas tote bag on the floor and unslung her leather shoulder bag. He'd bought the bag for her in Geneva, less than a month ago. He'd known she would love it. He'd been right.

"The fog's coming in," she said. "Will that be a problem for Bruce?"

"No. I called him when you were in the shower. He said it's clear at Westboro. Taking off in fog is all right. It's the landings that can be a problem."

"I wish you were coming."

"I can't. I've got to be here tomorrow. And you've got to be in New York." He shrugged.

As she strode toward him, her eyes searched his face. She'd sensed a difference, sensed that something had changed. "Shall we go to the airport, then? Is Bruce there now?"

Daniels nodded. "He's there. He's ready, and the airplane's ready."

"So let's go." As she spoke, she came a last, significant step closer. She would kiss him good-bye. She would work her body against his, promises made, promises still to keep.

But this was the final scene, followed by fade-out. Good-bye to Carolyn.

Ultimately, everything ended. Even the sensation of her flesh naked against him, exploring, demanding. Finally exploding, the two of them.

The blank envelope lay on the arm of the sofa, within reach. As boardroom maneuvering must be meticulously choreographed, so must this moment of parting.

He shook his head. "I've got to stay here. You take the Jeep, leave it at the airport. Give Bruce the keys."

"Oh—?" She raised one tawny eyebrow. Did she pluck her eyebrows? Had he ever asked her?

"Oh?" she repeated. Standing motionless, hips loose, shoulders slanted, head cocked, she frowned, studying him carefully. Did women like her live in constant dread of this moment?

Women like her ...

God, it was a Victorian phrase: "a certain kind of woman." Yet the distinction applied. Some women fucked for hearth and home, some for the money and the mink. Leave love for the poets.

"Carolyn ..." As he said it, he could hear the equivocation in his own voice. It was a flaw. In both business and love, the offense always won. Take the initiative, take home the prize.

He reached for the envelope, held it out to her. "Here. Take this."

Eyes steady, mouth hardening, body tightening, she used thumb and forefinger to take the envelope. It was a nicely calculated gesture signifying a wry puzzlement, a gathering disdain. Carolyn, in control.

"What's this, Preston? Should I guess?"

"It's a check, Carolyn." He spoke softly, carefully measuring the words, gingerly monitoring the cadence. An hour ago, she'd been doing coke. The coke could set her off, running wild. It had happened at Hilton Head. Only a five-figure check had persuaded the management not to file assault charges.

"A check, eh? Another check?" Yes, she, too, was thinking of Hilton Head. They'd always been so remarkably in sync. "A check for how much?" Beneath the icy words, behind the cold gray eyes, rage was beginning to boil.

"Twenty-five thousand." He was satisfied with his voice, with the tone he could command. His business, after all, was manipulation.

"You son of a bitch." Suddenly she stepped close, swung, struck him on the side of the head, high. And then, as the envelope fluttered to the floor, she was on him. Her body was a wild, writhing knot of fury; her carmine-tipped fingers were talons. Her lips were drawn back to expose her teeth, as if she would tear at his exposed throat. Once she'd asked him for rough sex. He'd laughed at her. Uneasily.

Off balance, he staggered, momentarily recovered, then fell to his knees. Still she clung to him, ripping, tearing. How could he transact business, the man in command, with adhesive patches on his face? Behind his back, they'd snicker.

He rolled away, felt his shoulder strike the coffee table, a huge slab of natural slate. She was on him again. With his left hand he grasped her hair as he struggled to his knees. He jerked her head sharply aside, exposing her face, her jaw. He struck her with all his strength. Instantly, her eyes went blank, her whole body went slack. From an animal crouch, knees flexed, arms going slack now, she suddenly collapsed, fell backward. Her head struck the corner of the coffee table: a melon sound, splitting open.

In the savage silence that followed, only the sound of panting remained.

His panting.

Not hers.

10 P.M., EDT

Ahead, on the right side of the two-lane road, on the shoulder, red and blue and white strobes blinked and blazed: a police car parked behind another car. The police car was white. Was it the state police, or the locals? Was it Constable Joe Farnsworth, doing his duty? Fat, waddling Joe Farnsworth, pistol dangling beneath his paunch, a play-actor's spoof of a policeman. Two summers ago, the bastard had come up behind her, pressed against her, cupped her buttocks in his sausage-fingered hand. Vividly, she remembered the sour smell of his breath on the back of her neck. When she'd turned on him, he'd smiled. She remembered the smile, too: small, cupid's lips pressed between rosy cheeks. Narrow-set, hot little pig eyes. Constable Joe, Carter Landing's bad joke.

But the car had the state police shield painted on the door. Massachusetts' finest: a slim, trim state trooper examining his victim's driver's license in the glare of the patrol car's headlights. The victim was a teenage boy about her age, unsteady on his feet. Driver's license, good-bye.

When Diane had first seen the strobes she'd decelerated, downshifted. Yes, the speedometer needle was on fifty-five. Drunk or sober, sky high or belly-scraping low, she could always drive. She and the BMW—what else was there?

Ahead on the left, Diane's headlights swept over the chain-link fence of the school-bus yard: a half-dozen yellow and black buses, parked for the summer. Followed on the right by the familiar green sign with the white lettering: CARTER'S LANDING, POP. 3,754.

Ten o'clock on a July evening. Cape Cod. Sunday. Foggy. Chilly. Except for The Haven— the summer people, eating and drinking—the town was closed down. Inside the expensive German car with its expensive gadgets glowing in the dark, she was alone. She and the BMW, nothing else. Nothing more, nothing less. Still alone.

Always alone?

Four hours ago—five hours ago—she'd been in New York. If nothing changed in Carter's Landing, everything predictable, locked in, nothing changed in New York, either. Prisons. Herself the jailer of herself. So she'd gotten in the BMW and cranked up the sound and driven down the road, herself outrunning herself, watching the lights of New York disappearing in the mirror. Manhattan. The East Side. Park Avenue. The beautiful people, posing for the beautiful people. Even when they were alone, they posed. Was her mother at their view window now, posing, wineglass in hand, staring out at the East River?

Whenever they fought, her mother's face changed. Beneath the socialite's mask, the features of a fishwife were hidden. Expose the fishwife's face, and the fight was over. Not won, but over.

For both of them.

For her mother, on Park Avenue.

For her, slowing the BMW as she drew abreast of the Village Dry Cleaners.

Like every business establishment in Carter's Landing, all of them dependent on the tourist dollar, the Village Cleaners had the approved Cape Cod saltbox look: weathered gray shingles, white trim, a scrolled Colonial sign illuminated only by small spotlights. Neon was forbidden. But now, at ten o'clock, the sign was not illuminated; the shop was dark. Likewise the living quarters behind the shop were dark.

Signifying, therefore, that while his mother slept, early to bed, Jeff was either cruising or fucking. Or else he was drinking at Tim's Place. The exact sequence was a question of chance. Opportunity plus chance.

She pressed the accelerator, shifted from second to third, felt the car surge.

Yes, she could always drive.

10:10 P.M., EDT

Surprisingly, there was almost no blood.

She'd lost her urine, and the room reeked of feces. But there was almost no blood. There was only enough blood to turn her mass of tawny hair a thick, congealing crimson.

Her wide-open eyes were as inanimate as two stones. Lying on her back beside the limestone slab of the coffee table, her body had already begun to flatten on the bottom. No longer circulating through her body, her blood was settling. Ultimately, someone had said, gravity claims us all.

Two hours ago, locked together, inciting each other, guiding each other—reveling in each other—they'd made love.

Now, incredibly, she was dead.

He'd drawn the drapes and turned off all the lights, leaving only a single table lamp lit. He was sitting in a chair that faced the ocean. He could hear the sound of surf, that timeless, endless sound. He looked at his watch, but somehow the time didn't relate to reality. It was as if the surface of his consciousness was too fragmented to retain even the most elemental information. His data base was closing down. His—

From a nearby speaker the sound of the telephone suddenly warbled, shattering the silence. A cordless phone, that constant extension of himself, lay on the lamp table beside him. He'd already touched the phone, an automatic response, before he remembered: Carolyn, lying motionless less than ten feet from him. Carolyn, dead.

But why shouldn't he answer the phone? What was the connection?

His recorded message was short, followed by Kane's voice:

"Yeah, this is Bruce. I wanted to check whether you'd left for the airport yet. We shouldn't wait too much longer."

Listening to his pilot's voice, Daniels realized that he was frowning. Always, there was a hint of arrogance in Kane's manner, especially if he was exercising his pilot's safety-related prerogatives. If Kane refused to fly, plans were changed. There was no appeal. Accounting, Daniels knew, for Kane's habitual insolence. A pilot made life-or-death decisions. His life. His death.

Daniels realized that he'd risen to his feet and was moving to his study, to the telephone control panel. It was impossible to talk in the same room with the body.

The simple act of walking helped. He could feel himself surfacing, willing himself to take charge. From this moment on, time would begin to work for him, not against him. The jangle of the telephone had jolted him back to self-command, self-salvation.

He switched on the antique green-shaded brass study lamp, lifted the master phone, touched the button opposite N-50SR, the Beechcraft's identification. Moments later, Kane answered.

Without preamble, Daniels said, "Listen, Bruce, there's been a change of plans."

"Ah—" It was a noncommittal response. "So?"

"So Miss Estes isn't going to go with you tonight."


"And—ah—I'm not going, either. I've got to stay here, at least until—until tomorrow." His voice, he knew, was ragged, his delivery uneven. Would Kane notice? Would Kane remember?

"It's just as well. I just talked to Flight Service, and they—"

"But I want you to go anyhow."

"What?" It was a single, flat-sounding monosyllable, Kane's specialty.

"I want you to go to Westboro. I want you to leave an envelope for Jackie, at the registration desk. Then—" Quickly, he calculated: it was a little more than an hour to Westboro, if everything went right. Three hours, probably, round trip. Once more, he looked at his watch. Time: ten-twenty P.M. Plus three hours—he ticked off his fingers. One-thirty, at least. Two o'clock, if Kane had to wait for takeoff clearance.

"Then I want you to come back here. To Barnstable."


"That's what I want you to do."

"But, Christ, that could be four hours."

"It can't be helped."

A long, angry silence followed. Then: "That's assuming I can land here. Visibility's down to minimums."

"Do your best." He hesitated. Then, reluctantly: "There's a bonus if you get back tonight. Five hundred."

Another silence, this one for calculation. Finally: "Have you got the envelope for Jackie ready?"

"It will be, by the time you—" Momentarily surrendering to a knife-flick of panic, he broke off. By the time you get here, he'd almost said. "By the time you're ready, the envelope'll be there. I'll bring it to the plane. Now. Right now."

"You will?" It was a curious, speculative question. Even though the airport was close by, a precedent was in question. Servants carried envelopes, not the master.

"I want to get out of the house, get some fresh air. I'll be at the airport in a few minutes. If I miss you, I'll leave the envelope at the desk. When you get back, call. Tell the answering machine what time you got in. Then go to bed. I'll call you tomorrow."

On the other end of the line, Kane was chuckling: an insolent chuckle, Kane's little joke. A five-hundred-dollar joke.

Daniels replaced the phone in its cradle, took an envelope and five sheets of blank paper from the desk drawer. Folding the paper, his fingers shook. He sealed the envelope, found a pen, began addressing the envelope. The pen magnified the trembling of his hand. Slowly, as awkwardly as he must have written when he was a child, he began forming the two words: Jacquelaine Miller. As he wrote, it seemed that he could hear a prosecutor addressing the jury. The prosecutor would hold up the envelope, for the jury's inspection.

"You'll notice, ladies and gentlemen, how utterly different this childish scrawl is from the defendant's normal handwriting. The cause of this difference, we will show, is acute anxiety resulting from extreme guilt."


Excerpted from Except for the Bones by Collin Wilcox. Copyright © 1991 Collin Wilcox. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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


Sunday, July 15,
9:10 P.M., EDT,
10 P.M., EDT,
10:10 P.M., EDT,
10:20 P.M., EDT,
10:25 P.M., EDT,
10:30 P.M., EDT,
11:45 P.M., EDT,
11:50 P.M., EDT,
12:01 A.M., EDT,
12:05 A.M., EDT,
12:15 A.M., EDT,
Monday, July 16,
6:20 A.M., EDT,
9 A.M., EDT,
10 A.M., EDT,
10:30 A.M., EDT,
10:40 A.M., EDT,
11:50 A.M., EDT,
12:10 P.M., EDT,
12:30 P.M., EDT,
1:10 P.M., EDT,
1:20 P.M., EDT,
4:30 P.M., EDT,
4:50 P.M., EDT,
5:20 P.M., EDT,
6 P.M., EDT,
9:15 P.M., EDT,
12:20 A.M., EDT,
Friday, July 27,
3:30 P.M., PDT,
4:35 P.M., PDT,
8 P.M., PDT,
11 P.M., PDT,
Saturday, July 28,
9:30 A.M., EDT,
11 A.M., EDT,
11:04 A.M., EDT,
11:25 A.M., EDT,
11:45 A.M., EDT,
12:20 P.M., EDT,
12:30 P.M., PDT,
2 P.M., EDT,
3 P.M., PDT,
4 P.M., EDT,
Monday, July 30,
9:30 A.M., PDT,
10:15 A.M., PDT,
7:45 P.M., PDT,
8 P.M., PDT,
8:30 P.M., PDT,
10 P.M., PDT,
11:15 P.M., PDT,
Tuesday, July 31,
6:30 A.M., PDT,
9:10 A.M., PDT,
9:25 A.M., PDT,
11 A.M., PDT,
11:20 A.M., PDT,
1 P.M., PDT,
2:30 P.M., PDT,
3:15 P.M., PDT,
Wednesday, August 1,
11 P.M., EDT,
Thursday, August 2,
8 P.M., PDT,
8:30 P.M., PDT,
9 P.M., PDT,
Friday, August 3,
10:30 A.M., PDT,
1:15 P.M., PDT,
2:20 P.M., PDT,
2:30 P.M., PDT,
2:50 P.M., PDT,
4 P.M., EDT,
6 P.M., PDT,
7 P.M., PDT,
7:02 P.M., PDT,
10 P.M., PDT,
11:10 P.M., PDT,
11:40 P.M., PDT,
11:46 P.M., PDT,
11:46:20 P.M., PDT,
11:48 P.M., PDT,
11:49 P.M., PDT,
12:10 A.M., PDT,
12:45 A.M., PDT,
1:45 A.M., PDT,
2:05 A.M., PDT,
2:30 A.M., PDT,
Saturday, August 4,
10:30 A.M., PDT,
11:10 A.M., PDT,
12:30 P.M., PDT,
2:30 P.M., PDT,
5:30 P.M., EDT,
11:45 P.M., EDT,
Sunday, August 5,
9:30 A.M., EDT,
9:45 A.M., EDT,
4 P.M., EDT,
4:05 P.M., EDT,
5:15 P.M., PDT,
Tuesday, August 7,
11 A.M., PDT,
5 P.M., PDT,
Thursday, August 9,
10 A.M., EDT,
11:20 A.M., EDT,
4:30 P.M., EDT,
Friday, August 10,
6 P.M., EDT,
6:20 P.M., EDT,
6:30 P.M., EDT,
6:40 P.M., EDT,
7:15 P.M., EDT,
7:30 P.M., EDT,
8:30 P.M., EDT,
8:50 P.M., EDT,
9:40 P.M., EDT,
9:45 P.M., EDT,
9:50 P.M., EDT,
10:55 P.M., EDT,
11:15 P.M., EDT,
11:30 P.M., EDT,
11:40 P.M., EDT,
11:42 P.M., EDT,
11:45 P.M., EDT,
11:48 P.M., EDT,
11:49 P.M., EDT,
11:52 P.M., EDT,
11:54 P.M., EDT,
11:55 P.M., EDT,
11:56 P.M., EDT,
11:57 P.M., EDT,
2:20 A.M., EDT,
Thursday, August 16,
6:30 P.M., PDT,
Preview: Find Her a Grave,

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